By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
“No winners, just survivors. No spectators, just witnesses.”
That’s the philosophy many women rugby players ascribe to, including the Mankato Scrappers. The Minnesota State women’s rugby club was started 30 years ago and it is still one of the best kept secrets on campus.
MSU graduate student Kankemwa Tongrit-Green recently put together a research paper chronicling the history of women’s rugby at MSU. In it, she not only describes how the sport originated but how the program has struggled for acceptance on campus.
With no varsity status, they refer to themselves as the Mankato Scrappers. They play on a field located at the new MSU outdoor track and have nearly 35 players on their roster.
According to head coach Vicky Hidalgo, rugby combines elements of a lot of sports, most notably the endurance of soccer, the roughness of hockey and the violence of football. Yes, if you have a low threshold of pain, rugby is probably not for you.
It is said of rugby players that they didn’t forget to wear pads ... they just outgrew them. In other words, toughness is a useful attribute.
“Pain is really not something we focus on when we’re recruiting players,” Hidalgo said. “When you’re in the game your adrenaline is pumping so fast you hardly notice it.
“It’s more about building a cohesive bunch of players; about protecting your community, your family. That’s the atmosphere we try to foster.”
Rugby is considered a free-flowing game that features a combination of strength, speed and strategy. The object is to move the ball into an opponents’ territory. You score points placing the ball over the try zone (5 points) or by making a conversion kick (2 points).
The most unusual aspect of the sport is the scrum, which is used to restart play following a minor infraction. It looks like a giant huddle from which the ball eventually pops out. It has both tackling and passing (sideways and backwards only).
All of this is done using little to no protective gear. Injuries do occur but most are viewed as a badge of honor.
The Mankato Scrappers are currently in their spring season, which is basically a developmental time for the program. The real competitive season occurs in the fall when MSU takes on club teams from other colleges. This last year the Scrappers went 5-1-1 and just missed the postseason.
“We compete in the regional playoffs pretty regularly,” said Hidalgo. “We want to get to that next level where we start qualifying for nationals. Right now we’re just trying to grow and develop players so we get to that point.”
In the meantime, the Scrappers will continue to ... well, scrap.
“We are proud women with a ton of heart,” said team member Sewell Evan. “We work hard for everything we have because nothing has ever been given to us.”