Bonds fuel women’s rugby success

When you think of the word "rugby," what do you see? A bone-crushing tackle? A broken arm? A barbaric group of men covered in mud, sweat and blood? To most, a rugby player may be thought of as a lowbrow, violent, animal-like creature that attacks at the first sign of weakness, devouring everything in his path.

Now picture this. Out on the field, huddled between teammates, covered in that same mud, sweat and blood, is a girl. Not just any girl. Not some 200-pound behemoth with side burns. You know, the kind of girl that’s "supposed" to play this type of game. Her name is Kathryn. She barely hits the 5-foot mark, and tips the scale at about 120 pounds. Gathered around her is a group of girls who, from a distance, don’t seem like much. What this team lacks in size, however, they make up for in heart… and pink nail polish.

The Oswego State women’s rugby team is a USA Rugby-registered team that has competed in the New York State Rugby League for several years. Over these years, the team has developed bonds and traditions stronger than any tackle or hit they could take. As soon as you join the team, you feel like one of them. A very accepting bunch, the Oswego Black Widows will do whatever it takes to make a new teammate feel welcome. One tradition, and one of the most important, is the nickname. Each player — no matter how good, bad or ugly — gets a nickname at the conclusion of her rookie season. After months of sprints, sit ups, cuts and bruises, each girl’s attitude and style earns them their respective nicknames. There’s Brick, who got her name from the way she acts as a wall to opposing players. There’s Funshine, whose bubbly personality makes everyone around her smile. There are girls like Slater, whose nickname has become so used that people forget that her real name is Ashley. Kathryn, or Oli, loves the closeness and bond that all of these players share.

"My favorite part is just being with everyone," Kathryn said. "Everyone has a different personality, but we all get along."

This bond makes the new feel wanted and the old not want to leave. Each year the Black Widows host a tournament called the "Greased Weasel," which brings everyone together in an after-party of sorts, where the team, the visiting teams and the alumni can come and have a good time together. That concept, overall, is the reason players like Kathryn enjoy the game so much.

"It’s a really tight-knit community," Kathryn said. "When you find someone who plays rugby you have an immediate connection. Almost like a family."

Kathryn is not the only one who feels this way. The family-feel and team chemistry shows when the Black Widows step out on the field. The team doesn’t have a coach, so this is a very important bond to have, especially for new captain Sarah McAndrew, or Sunni.

"It’s a great team sport," McAndrew said. "You have to depend on your team and trust them for support. You can’t do it on your own."

The players feed off of each other’s intensity. That is what winger Lauren "Skully" Baratto loves the most.

"That’s my favorite part," Baratto said. "The intensity keeps you on your toes and leaves you wanting more. It makes you want to be the best player and score the next try. Getting a sweet tackle just adds to it."

These players don’t look like your typical rugby players. They’re just your average college girls who happen to like getting a little dirty. But once you make that first tackle that opens up the field for your teammate to make the try, you understand. It’s not just about hitting people. It’s about your team. It’s mud, it’s sweat, it’s blood… and pink nail polish.