"When we are off the field, we dress up in skirts and pride ourselves in being girls. But put us on the field and we are very intense."

I couldn’t post this until today, but here’s the article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on the Divine Savior Holy Angels High School girls’ rugby team.

Tough stuff: DSHA’s rugby team, rated No. 1 in the nation, prepares for major tournament
By DAN MANOYAN
dmanoyan@journalsentinel.com
Posted: May 27, 2006
Kathleen Maloney’s mother, Connie, gets really nervous – no make that really nervous – watching her daughter play rugby for Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.

“She sits there on the sideline saying the Rosary,” Maloney said of her mother.

And sure enough, Mrs. Maloney had good reason to worry about her daughter. Kathleen broke a finger playing the rough and tumble sport earlier this season. But at least Mom won’t have to worry anymore, because her daughter’s season and playing days at DSHA are over due to the injury. “I’m going to have to have surgery on it, so I’m out for the season,” said Maloney, a senior tri-captain.

That means Maloney won’t be around to help the two-time defending high school girls national champions go for another title. DSHA, which hasn’t lost a match since October 2003, will be the No. 1-seeded team in the nation tournament to be held Thursday through next Sunday in Portland, Maine.

Based on past performances, the Dashers should do just fine without Kathleen. The team’s coach, John Klein, doesn’t know exactly what his team’s record is since he took over the program eight years ago, but he knows it is very good.

“I don’t think we’ve lost more than 10 games since I’ve been here and I know we’ve played over 100 games,” said Klein, who is affectionately called “Coach Chin” by his players because of his very prominent facial feature. “I do know we are one of the best high school rugby programs in the country.”

The Dashers are also the only girls rugby team sponsored by any high school in Wisconsin. Locally, they play in a loose consortium of teams of high school-aged girls from Kettle Moraine, Mukwonago, Whitefish Bay, Mequon, Madison, Muskego, Brookfield and Fond du Lac.

Some would say the DSHA administration is way ahead of its time in taking a lead role in sponsoring the sport. Naysayers would argue that rugby – which has many of the elements of football, but is played without pads – is too rough a sport for high school boys, let alone high school girls.

DSHA athletic director Peggy Braun says the school has had no qualms about sponsoring the sport for the past 10 years.

“It’s been a club program for a number of years and it has just caught on with girls,” Braun said. “They love it, their parents love it, and they know what they are getting into when they sign up.

“They know that in rugby, like in any other sport, there is a potential for injuries. But we feel it is important that they be represented by the school.”

Klein, who teaches at Oak Creek High School and played rugby in his undergraduate days at Marquette University, knows firsthand the dangers of the sport and understands why other schools are reluctant to sponsor teams. But he also feels that rugby, if played properly, can be as safe as any other sport.

“I guess a lot of schools don’t feel comfortable sponsoring rugby teams, but I give DSHA a lot of credit for doing this,” he said. “I don’t think you are any more likely to be injured playing rugby than soccer or other sports.

“That’s the perception people have about rugby, but it’s not accurate. It’s a rough sport, but if you are coached to play the game properly, it is no more injury-prone than any other sport. We’ve had injuries, but certainly no more than they have in other sports.”

Julie Mewissen, also a senior tri-captain, said her parents were initially very worried about her playing rugby but gradually have converted to the sport.

“The first few games I played, my mom was very worried, but she’s fine now,” Mewissen said. “It can be a violent sport, but it’s not as scary for my parents now. They like it because there is always something going on.”

Klein, who estimates his roster to currently include 40 to 45 players, has no problem recruiting girls for his team. He lost 18 seniors from last year’s national championship team but didn’t miss a beat replacing them.

“There no shortage of players,” he said. “The girls recruit their friends and other girls. . . . The sport is very popular at the school.”

Indeed, while DSHA sports teams have a statewide reputation for excellence, the rugby team does seem to hold a special place in the eyes of the all-female student body.

“The other girls in the school really support us,” said Marissa Readinger, the team’s final senior tri-captain. “It’s almost cult-like.”

Added Kathleen Maloney: “We’re seen as sort of a cult, but in a good way. It’s like when we walk down the hallways, it’s, ‘Those are the rugby girls.’ It’s a positive thing.”

So what exactly draws the girls to the sport? Most often they will mention the camaraderie, the family atmosphere, and – surprise, surprise – the violence.

“It’s fun playing for Coach Chin because he’s more of a friend than a coach in some of the sports,” said Maloney, who will join Mewissen at Saint Louis University next year. “Practices are a lot of fun, we joke around, have a good time.”

Mewissen and Readinger admit that they like the physical challenge of the sport.

“If I’m mad about something, I can’t wait to get out there and tackle somebody,” Mewissen said. “Everything stays on the pitch (field).”

Readinger, who will attend West Point Academy next year, echoed Mewissen’s thoughts.

“In a roundabout way, it’s kind of therapeutic for me,” she said. “If I’m having a bad day, working on a hitting drill or running gets your mind off everything else that is going on.

“This game isn’t for everybody. . . girlie girls wouldn’t want to play rugby. When we are off the field, we dress up in skirts and pride ourselves in being girls.

“But put us on the field and we are very intense.”

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