UCSD women's rugby dominates the field

    So maybe UCSD doesn’t have a nationally ranked football team ‹ or a football team at all, for that matter. But look no further than RIMAC Field and you’ll find a lineup of 24 die-hard women ready to defend their No. 4 ranking this season. It’s not old-fashioned American football ‹ it’s something even better, a sport filled with harder hits, no breaks and fewer regulations. Welcome to the world of women’s rugby.

    Courtesy of UCSD Recreation

    The Tritons capped off last year’s season with a Cinderella-like trip to the Final Four, coming in fourth place with a 19-12 loss to Penn State at Nationals. Established at UCSD in 1996, the women’s rugby team is raising eyebrows across the nation with their success. It’s uncommon for such a young program to consistently churn out impressive results.

    With only one defeat in their preseason, the Tritons are looking to repeat last year’s success. This time, however, they don’t want to cut the season off one game short of a championship. Does the team have ambition? Yes. Enthusiasm? Definitely. Talent? Without a doubt, and even more drive than a UCSD student during finals week.

    Preseason began in early October, with two scrimmage wins over Claremont and rival UC Santa Barbara. The wins were further highlighted by two tournament victories, including a Las Vegas tournament and UCSD’s own Scrum by the Sea, both in November.

    On the way to their victory in the Scrum by the Sea tournament, the Tritons faced a very competitive UC Berkeley team in the semifinals, and then went on to beat the 2001 National Champions Chico State, 17-14, to claim the title. The championship marked the third year in a row that the Tritons won the tournament.

    The Tritons’ only loss came in September, in the Beantown Collegiate Women’s Tournament, to a Canadian team. The lady Tritons ended up tying for third place with Penn State in the tournament.

    The regular season kicks off Jan. 31 against UCSB at Warren Field.

    “”This team is very motivated. They know that they could have played better [in last year’s Final Four loss] and know that they’re a better team this year,”” said head coach Carla Smith, known as “”Hoova”” to her players. “”Everyone wants to be out there, they consistently come to practice every week. The team knows that the national championship is within reach.””

    Although the team lacks some size compared to last year’s seniors, they’re a different team speed-wise.

    “”We definitely lost some size with our forwards, but we’re a much quicker and more versatile team than we were last year ‹ that’s what we were lacking in Nationals. In the back we’re in good hands, they tackle well,”” Smith said. “”The team is much more well-rounded this year, they’re equally strong in the front and back.””

    The team has been trying different lineups with their 12 returning starters and rookies. The Tritons are still getting a feel for what works best in their lineup, with many of the players learning and trying out new positions to find the best fit.

    As for key players, the team is furnished with many all-stars, including Jessica Venturi (second team All-American in 2002-03) and Kirstin Hartos (first team All-American in 2001-02). Many players have made the Southern California Representative All-Star Team and will play in either the Under-23 Inter-Territorial Tournament in June 2004 or the Senior Women’s All-Star Tournament held in December 2003 in Orlando, Fla.

    One of the keys to doing well this season will be maintaining a strong focus.

    “”We cannot lose sight of doing the fundamentals right,”” Hartos said. “”As long as we don’t get caught up in the hype, or everyone else’s expectations and just play our game, we’ll be fine. We need to keep our game plans simple and just execute like we know we can.””

    Smith expressed similar sentiments.

    “”A goal I would like to see us achieve is sticking to our own strategies and game plans. If we do so, we will win consistently,”” Smith said.

    Another secret to the Tritons’ success has been their coach of three years. Smith has infused the women’s rugby program with energy, knowledge and love for the game. With a laid-back attitude but a demanding work ethic, Smith has been a big factor in the Tritons’ victorious seasons.

    How is it that a sport that is arguably only big on the East Coast is doing so well in an area in which it is still catching on?

    “”We have very smart students. They are intelligent and can pick up drills and the sport very quickly,”” Smith said. “”These girls are all very athletic and are very talented ‹ it’s not just the coaching. Plus it helps that they have aggression. Rugby is a sport that you both love and are addicted to or you just plain hate. It’s a sport that really follow the 14 assists, one try rule ‹ it really just depends on how well the team works together.””

    The team’s goal for this season will be to make a run for Nationals and bring home a national championship.

    “”We have the potential to do even better than last year,”” Hartos said. “”A lot of teams are gunning for us and will be using us to measure the caliber of their respective sides. We’ve worked very hard to get where we are.””

    What makes this group of women different from any other team?

    “”We are a pretty tight-knit group of young women on and off the [field],”” Hartos said. “”We’re not just teammates, but a lot of us are roommates and good friends. We support each other, live with each other, play together, party together, take care of each other and mostly just care about each other.””

    A brand new season full of new episodes, new characters and new plots starts soon.

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