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Leagues of Their Own: UCLA Club Sports

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By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Elena Zhukova

Published Jan 1, 2013 8:00 AM


WOMEN'S RUGBY

Ruck On

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In what sport is a score called a "try"? Where "props" and "hookers" immerse themselves in "rucks" and "scrums"? Where the ball must be passed sideways or backwards to be legal?

If you said rugby, give yourself five points. At times erroneously described as "American football without pads," this sport with the rough reputation has been gaining popularity with Bruin women since 1975, when a group of inspired student-athletes founded a women's rugby club on campus. In 2005, UCLA Women's Rugby joined the collegiate division of the Southern California Rugby Football Union and, for the past five years, the fiercely competitive Bruins have earned trips to the College National Championships.

Yet surprisingly, more than 90 percent of UCLA's current team had never played rugby before joining the club.

"I'd never even heard of rugby, except for that movie with Matt Damon [Invictus, 2009]," says Lianne Pak, a second-year student who serves as the team's external vice president. She found out about UCLA Women's Rugby during freshman orientation and decided to sign up. She was not without her misgivings, however.

"I was scared because of all the tackling and everything," she admits. "But the people on the team, they're the reason I stayed. They're really cool people."

Fifth-year sociology major Lucy Tin was also new to rugby when she joined the team in her freshman year. "It was really intimidating, because these girls were just so serious about rugby," she recalls. But with her basketball/track-and-field background, Tin was able to power through the exhausting workouts and even landed a starting position as a rookie. Her parents were initially worried about her playing rugby, she says, but they relented when they saw how much she enjoyed it. "My favorite part of rugby is tackling people," she confesses.

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Securing the ball for the UCLA Women’s Rugby Club underneath a ruck.

As it turns out, even third-year student Diana Nguyen, the club's current president, wasn't familiar with rugby until she got to UCLA. "I had no clue whatsoever," Nguyen says, laughing. "My freshman orientation counselor shared her experiences [about being on the rugby team], and she told me, 'Hey, you should join rugby.' So I watched YouTube videos of rugby. I was like, 'Wait a minute. You tackle people in this game? What?' "

Three years later, Nguyen is president of the club for the second straight year. She heads an executive committee of approximately 10 members who help her with the many tasks needed to run the club. The team's schedule this season includes thrice-weekly practices, two tournaments, eight league games, playoffs and, hopefully, another trip to nationals. There is also the group's annual Prom Dress Rugby game, in which the team plays rugby in prom gowns as a publicity stunt.

Nguyen's biggest project, though, involves working with UCLA's Club Sports staff to upgrade her team's status from Tier One to varsity — taking them one step closer to becoming an NCAA sport.

"I get e-mails from girls who actually played in high school, from out of state, out of the country," Nguyen says. "They say, 'I hear you have a rugby team. I want to apply.' And I'm like, wow! That makes me feel so good. It's not only good for our team, but it's good for UCLA."

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