Prior to this year, Northwest rugby was searching for a way to become affiliated with the University. After becoming an affiliate of Northwest, the program was hoping to expand participation numbers.
For years, there have been streaky off-and-on skids on rugby taking place in Nodaway County, included in that is the Nodaway County Rugby Team.
Now, for the first time, there’s officially a women’s team.
“Last year when we started, and kinda founded the women’s team, there were only three of us that played, which is not even enough to make a team,” Northwest senior Meghan McMurray said. “Coming into this year, we were really looking forward to hopefully getting enough to create a women’s sevens team.”
With that goal in mind, McMurray said she, along with Northwest senior and captain Koffi Lewis, increased their efforts in terms of recruiting women to the program. The number aforementioned by McMurray has doubled, and then some.
“We have a consistent eight, which is enough to make a team. That’s pretty significant because I’m the only girl that returned this year because the other two transferred,” McMurray said. “So, the fact we recruited so many new women — they’re all freshmen as well — that’s exciting to look forward to that we’ll hopefully be able to retain them throughout their four years.”
The women had their first friendly Oct. 17 against the Iowa State women’s rugby team. The women weren't able to bring a full squad to play sevens, but the Iowa State women’s team had some extras to have a makeshift game.
Usually, the women play in the men’s matches. The matchup with Iowa State was the first time the women had their own competition that wasn’t affiliated with the Northwest men’s team.
“It was great to let them actually, like, it’s definitely different just practicing, especially with us guys versus actually being out there with other girls and just actually playing a game,” Lewis said. “It was super dope to see them play. I think they actually liked it, too. I was talking to them after, and they said they had a lot of fun.”
The foundation of the women’s team is something that’s been in the works since McMurray’s arrival at Northwest. She’s spearheaded the operations towards the women having their own program.
Despite some latency, McMurray said, the men are some of the biggest supporters of the women.
“I think some people may get the wrong idea when I’m like, ‘(The men) are so excited to have new women on the team,’ but it really isn’t like that,” McMurray said. “I think a lot of them were really hesitant to have women on the team last year, but when they realized how much more fun and exciting it is — there’s a lot more dynamic, not as much testosterone, which is great.”
Lewis said he’s happy for the women that they get to have their own competition separate from the men’s team. It’s something that he’s helped McMurray with, and he helped teach the newcomers the intricacies of the sport.
“It’s more exciting to see how quickly they’ve picked up on the sport,” McMurray said of the women new to the program. “Not to be dramatic, but they’re all naturals, so that also just adds to the excitement that we could be looking at having friendlies and serious games and being serious contenders in the women’s realm soon to come.”
“Just seeing what they learn from us, and what we try to help show them and stuff like that, and then them applying that, is pretty cool,” Lewis said.
What the future holds for the women’s program, in the long term, isn’t certain. McMurray and Lewis hope it remains after their departures from the program.
They were supposed to play another friendly Nov. 7 in Ames, Iowa. Due to COVID-19 concerns from Iowa State, it was canceled. So, for now, the women are getting back to the practice field and going back to work.
“We’re a little bit limited in what we can do, given the pandemic and as we’re establishing ourselves as a team,” McMurray said. “I think within the next year, if regulations will allow us, you’ll definitely see us more.”