[Pic: Tonya, Blondie, Maggie … sunburned, tired, but happy]
Friday night, five of us ladies – Myself, Kelly (Pinkie), Nicole, Tonya and Katie – met up at 6:15 to drive down, along with two of the guys, Sean & Dennis. Being the super-athletic women that we are, we only made it 45 minutes before we needed to stop and eat. Yum. Culvers.
Got to the hotel on Chicago’s south side, lovely Baymont Inn, around 9 or 9:30 after narrowly escaping from Ninjas jumping out of truck (inside joke, sorry). We walked in to our hotel room to a funk smell you would not believe – a mix between body odor and something else gross I don’t want to guess, but then to our surprise there was a knock at the door and a Domino’s Pizza Man was there. We didn’t order any pizza? But then he held up a can of beer as a special delivery to us from our guys next door. So we joined them and all of us relaxed, watched Good Morning Vietnam on television and then later went to bed around 11:30 for our tourney the next morning.
Saturday morning, we arrived at the Whiskey 10s pitch at 9 a.m. and found that it was four swampy, muddy fields in the middle of what can only be described as an industrial dumping ground. I have never seen anything like it. I shudder to think what might have been in the water soaking the fields. But we had our first game at 11 against the University of Illinois-Chicago, so we got ready. Which included prepping two brand new rookies on the finer arts of the scrum. We had just 10 players for our team, so we knew it would be a long day if we played well and all hoped no one got hurt.
I opted to remove my big hand split and have an athletic trainer just splint my broken pinkie finger. Then I taped that splint to my next ring finger so it had some more stability. I was a bit hesitant, but anxious to play and it ended up just fine. Although my teammate Tonya laughed at me all day long because she says everytime I hit the ground or was tackled, you would see my left arm go up so it stayed out of play. And I do remember trying to maul one-handed. It worked too, for the most part.
So we had 10 players, rusty vets from a long off-season (since our season ended early around Oct. 1) or rookies who never really touched a rugby ball. UIC was actually a new senior women’s team forming called the Sirens made up of of UIC alums and other players who (according to a Chicago Condor men’s player) don’t want to play for North Shore or the Chicago Women. Sadly, Chicago’s other senior team, the Morrigans seems to have folded permanently.
Our pack’s front row was our new rookie Stephanie at prop, Katie our hooker and Susan, our new prop (who played collegiately for Chico State), then myself and Dana, our other rookie, at locks. Kelly, one of our team captains and usual No. 8, played scrummie, then her co-captain, Nicole, played flyhalf, then Tonya, Moni and Maggie filled out our backline. So we had an experienced and knowledgeable backline to help our inexperienced scrum. But it was a good mix I think. Our lineouts were a bit mixed, since I usually can lift, but can’t with a broken finger. So Susan was our front lifter, Maggie came in from our backline as our back lifter and Kelly would simultaneously scrumhalf and jump. Katie would then throw in and catch Kelly’s pass from the jump before sending it out to Nicole. It started out a little awkward, but soon was working fairly well. I was either our No. 4 in the line or controlling our extra packies of Dana and Stephanie in support of Katie and Nicole.
We warmed up and after a bit of last direction from our captains, and some grumbling of “ewww” over the field’s extra-soggy conditioning, got ready for kickoff. I believe we received on the whistle and it took us just three passes before Kelly was scoring our first try. UIC gave us some rough scrums right away, 3 in the first few minutes which proved a good thing for initiation by fire, and then off we went. Despite some mental lapses and sloppy mud ball, Nicole ran in three more tries for us, and practiced her dropkicking to get us 2 more points in the win. 22-0 Wisconsin over UIC/Sirens.
Later, I met one of the Sirens players who was not happy that she had a bootprint on her chest from our game. Sorry … but c’mon. It’s just part of the game. 🙂
Our second game was at 12:30 and was on Field 3, the only field that was dry. The sun came out and we had a nice match against a scrappy Northern Illinois University team. Since we had worked out some of our kinks in the first game, scrums and the basics improved in this match for us. NIU had a pretty good little scrumhalf or flyhalf, and one girl caught us offguard with a nice run in after a missed tackle on our part. Otherwise, our team played better and ran in six tries to win it 30-7. Nicole might have made some kicks, but I don’t remember. This game was also good for the pack, b/c we figured our our pop and our drive, and actually stole a few balls. Always fun! Even better, NIU has asked to play us again later this spring. Should be a good, fun match.
Our men’s team was also playing the tournament and had soundly defeated the D-I Chicago Condors and lost by just a try to Milwaukee Black & Blues after a deadlocked match. The men would go on to keep winning in convincing fashion, but the tournament organizers ran out of time for all the previously-scheduled semifinals and our guys ended up not making the finals due to that loss to Milwaukee. They were fantastic sideline cheerers though. We love our men’s team. 🙂
We were supposed to play a team from Grand Rapids third to finish our pool play, but that team never showed up and the pools were reorganized so that we would play the University of Illinois, a notably talented Midwest D-I college team and alumni program of many Wisconsin Women’s players in history. Our small 10 warmed up next to UI’s 30-plus girls sporting their orange and blue stripes. Needless to say, we were slightly concerned that fresh reserves would challenge us. Plus, Illinois had some mass in its forwards that we were lacking. Remember, I’m a lock and just 5-7, 140. Our hooker is just 5-2 and nobody in our pack really towers over us by much.
This game proved our most challenging so far and we were tied up 0-0 at the half, while Illinois sent in more fresh players. Their players were well-coached, but I think we fought back with harder-hitting and veteran rugby minds. As the second half started, it seemed the Wisconsin floodgates opened up and we just started running hard on Illinois and they couldn’t keep up. Including a breakaway by yours truly … sadly, it petered out with just 10 meters left and an Illini snagged me. *Sigh* … Next time.
One fan said that “those girls forgot how to tackle and you gals remembered how to run”. We won 17-0 to sweep our pool with a 3-0 record and enter the championship match against North Shore. Yeah us!
For background, our team and North Shore normally play each other at least once a year in Midwest Division I league play. Players from both teams are also teammates on various select-side teams, so we were not strangers to the competition we would face. I was also thankful that each of our earlier three games hadn’t been pushovers, but progressively more challenging to really shake the rust off.
North Shore had finished their pool with a 10-5 win over NIU on Field 1, a virtual quagmire of swamp mud. And the tournament organizers were trying to tell both teams we would have to play the women’s championship on that same field, despite the lone dry nice field being open. Isn’t that typical BS? Suffice it to say, we objected and utilized our feminine wiles to convince these rugby guys that was not the best decision. So, 30 minutes later we prepared to play North Shore on nice Field 3 with our men’s team lining the tryzone cheering us on.
I don’t remember much about this game, because we struggled with the scrums and the ball going straight out of the tunnel. I clearly remember that one of the first scrums, North Shore was blown up for barging and the lock across from me said quite loudly that we weren’t providing any resistance. Knowing full well that we had, I tempered my urge to dive across the tunnel and show her no resistance … but I just stayed quiet. By the way, this same lock … who easily outweighed me by 80 pounds, later told me I was like a speedbump after I tackled her. All I have to say is, hey, this little speedbump put you down to the ground and took you out of the run, all right big mama. And I’m going to think of that everytime I train now … I am not a speedbump. I am not a speedbump.
So, we struggled in pack play against North Shore and they rucked us off the ball more than we should have been. But we kept rallying and scored two tries to their four (i think). It’s all a bit foggy and disappointing, but final score was 27-14, I think for a second-place finish. And despite the dry field, I managed to tackle some girl into the one lone puddle and soak in the cold swamp. I remember yelling “Oh, that was unecessary! F**K!” … oops. It was cold though.
In fairness to my team, the referee in this final match also had some quite questionable calls, including one particular off-sides that he let ramble in for a 20-meter try run. Our entire men’s team almost stormed the field on that one … i’m fairly sure the ref took off real fast post-game.
We represented Wisconsin quite well and helped close down the bar while consuming mass quantities of beer and red-headed slut shots (I found that out the next day). We may also have allegedly broken a table and gotten in a few beer-splashing fights. Allegedly. A good time was had by all and more importantly, the South Side Irish guys (and many other ruggers) continually congratulated our players on a job well done and well-played.