A feature piece on the recent U-23 Women’s NASCs by Joelle Milholm, who played for the winning West All-Stars …
National championship completes rugby dream
By Joelle Milholm
June 16, 2006
For one whole week, I was able to live the dream.
I was fortunate enough to experience seven days in the life of a professional rugby player and win a national championship.
Last week I trained as a member of the Under-23s West Women’s rugby team, one of eight squads vying for the 2006 USA Rugby All-Star Women’s Under-23 national title.
From practicing every day, normally twice, to mapping out game plans in strategic meetings, to studying film and even practicing throws in the parking lot of our hotel — rugby was life. For 24 of us, coming from Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota and Missouri, we trained and worked like it was our job. And after four days of preparation in the high altitude atmosphere of Breckenridge, we traveled to Boulder, the tournament’s home.
In a two-tiered tournament, where the West secured a top-tier placement last year, we needed to win two games to be named top in the country — So we did.
The first victory started on Friday, when we played 8 minutes of our 80-minute match against Pacific Coast before it was called because of lightning. Although Pac Coast scored first, we put a try on the board right before the bolts filled the sky, harnessing the game’s momentum. But now we needed to carry it over to Saturday morning.
When we showed up 17 hours later, we picked up right where we left off. It was if we had played together forever, (as opposed to only four days) marching down the field with fluid continuity and unparalleled teamwork. We racked up more and more tries and kicks and ended up with a 37-14 win.
The victory slated us in the championship match on Sunday against the Midwest, a team who had won the tournament every year since its inception. Thanks to the Jonny-Wilkinson-like kicking of one of our centers, we took an early 6-0 lead. The Midwest battled back however, refusing to give its crown away without a fight.
The Midwest scored one try, but couldn’t make the conversion kick, so we kept a one-point, 6-5 lead 20 minutes into the match. That score remained unchanged for the rest of the first half and a good chunk of the second, until we finally punched one in. It was one of the most beautiful tries I have seen in eight years of playing — a perfect line out, followed by a perfect drive, capped off by a perfect forwards’ score and another flawless kick. It made the score 13-5, and despite another Midwest score and the remaining minutes ticking off slower than the time it takes my ‘96 Ford Aerostar to make it over Vail Pass, the winning margin held and we won 13-10.
For six of the players, myself included, the game was the last with the team as we age out this year. For the coach, Dustin George, it was his final game after four years of battling to get us to the top.
The whole experience was unforgettable — like a Master Card commercial in the making.
Mouth guards, medical tape, Ibuprofen and Band Aides — $25.
Water bottles, Gatorade and weird energy gel — $40.
Select beverages for a we-hope-we-win celebration after the game — $100.
Dethroning the seven-time national champions and winning the title in my last game with the team — priceless.
The best part was earning a championship for the glory, for the love of a game I would pay money to play every day. Not for a million-dollar contract, not for fame, not for a sponsorship deal, but for the gold medal and the eternal satisfaction of being able to hug my teammates and know we are the best Under 23s in the county.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent Newspaper in Colorado.