Remember a certain surprising upset for Michigan football last year?
An upset of similar proportion occurred in 2008, except it was Michigan crossing divisions and shocking the favorites.
In East Lansing on September 6, the Division II Michigan women’s rugby team beat Division I Michigan State, 22-17.
The distinction between divisions differs every year. College rugby is run by the United States of America Rugby Football Union, not the NCAA, which means divisions are made based on team performance, not school size.
Michigan State had a strong season last year and was bumped up to the top division. Michigan entered this year in Division II, but after the Wolverines’ shocking victory over the Spartans, the team’s fortunes are looking up.
“We could absolutely be moved up to Division I,” said Meghan Haigh, an Engineering junior and forward for the team.
How favored was Michigan State?
“I have a friend who graduated last year who said, ‘I’m not going to come to the game, you guys are going to get destroyed,’ ” Michelle Wong, an art history junior and running back, said.
Michigan coach Herb Reich said preparation was key to the win.
“It started with the work we did in the winter,” he said. “I challenged the girls to come out and take this sport seriously, and I told them rewards will come.”
The big win indicates that the women’s rugby team is a program on the rise. According to Haigh, the team attracts many crossover athletes from soccer, basketball and even tackle football. Since the sport is less popular among kids in the United States as it is in the rest of the world, most players discover rugby later in their athletic careers.
“We get all those soccer girls that have always wanted to tackle in soccer, basketball players, lacrosse, hockey,” Wong said. “All these girls with a little extra aggression, they make great players.”
However, both Haigh and Wong were quick to point out how rugby is for all different kinds of people.
“Anyone can play, obviously we get a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I’m too small,’” Haigh said. “There are 15 players on the field, so there’s positions for fast kids, slow kids, whatever.”
Women’s rugby is played with the same ball and rules as men’s rugby, with the lone exception being that women cannot hit each other above the waist. But make no mistake, the matches are still quite rough. Swollen fingers, bruises, sprains, and even dislocated shoulders are common injuries.
“There is definitely a lot of icing going on after games,” Haigh said.
Despite the soreness, the team has picked up a bunch of impact rookies. Six first-year players played against Michigan State, with surprising results.
“We were able to find some girls who were very comfortable going into contact,” Reich said. “And that’s something you can’t teach.”
The team holds rookie clinics in the fall for interested students. Students are also encouraged to drop by practices from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Mitchell Field. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to check out the website, http://www.umich.edu/~umwrfc/, or contact Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.