Rugby Bits & Bites

I took a break from blogging to recover from my head cold last week. My brain was completely turned off and only recently rebooting. Plus it’s snowing for the fifth time in the past eight days. Hello Winter!

A few rugbylicious bits from around the globe …

• Good on USA Rugby for collecting 703 pounds of food in the National Governing Bodies charity challenge.

• A feature piece on Beantown’s Heather Riley, via Heaven’s Game:

NATALIE RILEY DISCUSSES BEANTOWN RFC
Written by Globetrotter
Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Natalie Riley is Captain and hooker of Beantown RFC. Riley recently spoke with heavensgame about her club’s season of rugby.

Riley has been playing for 11 years. She started playing in her first semester at UMass Amherst. Riley’s sister (Claudia Bennett, the Beantown scrumhalf) played and convinced her to come to practice. Riley thought the practice session would be her first and last experience of women’s rugby, however, instead she fell in love with the sport.

Beantown RFC was founded in 1976 and is one of the two premier teams in the area (the other is Boston Women’s Rugby Club).

The club is comprised of a diverse group of women who come together for their love of rugby. Most of the team lives in the Boston area, but some players travel from as far as Providence, and one player even commuted from Hartford for a few seasons!

The Club is fortunate to have a great group of coaches – Jan Rutkowski (head coach), Richard Ashfield (backs coach), and Annie Flavin (forwards coach).

Riley says that the ladies in the team work hard and are very dedicated to achieving their goal of winning another National Championship. They have won six National Championships, with the last in 1996.

Beantown RFC fields 2 sides. The club does not have any official affiliations, but they do have unofficial affiliations from Beantown alumni that are associated with college teams – i.e. Radcliffe and Wellesley.

Riley told heavensgame about her own experience of the past rugby season, “I’m finally beginning to recover from the injury that kept me from most of the playoffs. (I dislocated my hip and broke my hip socket in the process.) It was very frustrating to not be able to participate in the last 3 games, but I am extremely proud of and happy for my team to have done so well this year”.

“It happened in the first game of Sweet Sixteens versus Kansas City. We tapped a ball on their line out and I fielded it. I don’t really remember the hit as being anything special, but all of a sudden, I was just in intense pain. I am almost done with my recovery. In the end, it was just like any broken bone – 6 weeks of crutches and a brace and then I’ll be good to go”.

Riley added, “It was really great to be captain this season. I felt very priviledged to be able to lead such an outstanding group of ladies. I think it went well, although it killed me to miss the end and most important part of the season. (I was scheduled to have surgery the day we left for Florida. I didn’t end up having it, but was unable to make the trip.) I tried to use my natural style of leadership as captain. I lead by playing with passion and dedication and encouraging the rest of the team to do the same. I think the thing that affected me the most is that I have a quiet and calm disposition. At times, I had to figure out how to break out of that to motivate the team”.

Riley explained that it was disappointing for her club to lose to Berkeley in the senior Women’s Rugby Club Championships. She said that “the team’s goal this season was to win Nationals. So obviously, we were disappointed when we fell short. At the same time, we moved up from #5 to #2 and beat some teams that have given us problems over the last few years – Atlanta and NY. We definitely think we can win the whole thing. And next year we will be back to prove it”.

• And here’s a nice feature on Laurel Stender, USA 7s player and a member of the Las Vegas Slots.

Crossing over: Stender quickly went from rookie to world traveler playing rugby

By DAVID HELDRETH / Staff Writer
BARSTOW — Laurel Stender must have the world’s most understanding boss.

Stender, a Barstow High School graduate, comes to work with black eyes, uses work equipment and takes weeks off at a time, but what would you expect from a physical therapist who plays rugby. However, she is not your ordinary weekend warrior. Stender is a member of the Women’s NationalSevens rugby team, Las Bandidas, a traveling rugby club based out of Southern California, and the Las Vegas Slots rugby club. After games and practices Stender uses the therapy machines and has coworkers do physical therapy work on her.

“I love my job,” Stender said. “I have a good boss, coworkers and patients. My boss even lets me take off for a week at a time for games.”

Stender will be taking a lot of time off work during the next couple weeks. Las Bandidas will be playing in the 49th Annual New York Seven’s Rugby Tournament this weekend. The tournament is the largest in the United States with nearly 100 teams participating this year. A week from now Stender and Las Bandidas will head to Dubai to compete in the Dubai Sevens Tournament.

This won’t be Stender’s first trip overseas with a rugby team. She traveled to the Dubai tournament with Las Bandidas and Barbados with the National team last year.
“There wasn’t much difference in what I saw in Dubai except the signs were in Arabic and people were wearing traditional clothes,” Stender said. “It wasn’t as different as I thought it would be.”

Although Dubai was not as different as Stender had thought, her current choice of sport is a world away from her first love. She began her athletic career as a cross country runner and was a member of the Barstow High School girls cross country team. Stender was a member of the 1999 girls cross country team that won the school’s first-ever Desert Sky League title and placed fourth in the CIF-Southern Section. She still holds the record for the mile at Barstow High School.

Cross country may have nothing in common with rugby for most people, but for Stender the two will be forever connected. She earned a cross country scholarship to San Jose State University, and it was there that she was introduced to rugby. Stender said a rivalry between the SJSU cross country and soccer coaches is what got her involved initially.

“I had a list of things I wasn’t supposed to do to avoid getting hurt, like play basketball,” Stender said. “Then my coach said I should try rugby as a speed workout. I guess he thought it would just touch or something. It turns out he was just trying to beat the soccer coach for players.”

Jim Duarte, Stender’s cross country coach at Barstow High School, said rugby was a natural move for her.

“Rugby is the sport she eventually had to go to with her ability, endurance and roughness,” Duarte said. “It’s where she would eventually gravitate to.”

Laurel’s mom, Linda, said she should have realized she had a special athlete for a daughter when she ran 59 laps without taking a break during a charity walk-a-thon when she was first grade. Laurel has been surprising her mom ever since. Linda said she didn’t expect her daughter would play rugby.

“She had never played before,” Linda said. “I just wanted her to protect herself. Especially her face and beautiful smile. I’m scared and proud all the time.”

Linda has plenty of reasons to be scared. Her daughter is playing a game with as much if not more contact than football, but the players don’t wear pads or helmets. She got a big scare when Laurel was knocked down during the USA Sevens National Championship in Park City, Utah. Laurel was on the ground for more than half a minute before she got up. Luckily she only suffered a case of whiplash in the collision.

Linda continues to support Laurel and her teams despite the anxiety and stress rugby brings her. She even bakes cookies for the various teams Laurel is part of. The cookies have become so well liked that Laurel’s teams ask if Linda can bring them to games and even make pit stops in Barstow on the way to games to get them.

“No one makes cookies like Laurel’s mom,” said Las Vegas Slots team member Tracy Robbins. “They’re like a 14 on a 10 scale.”

Early next year Laurel will be competing for a spot on the national team and the chance to play in San Diego, Barbados and Hong Kong. If she once again joins the national team, Linda may be baking a lot more cookies.

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Filed under articles, Beantown Women, Rugby: Bits and Bites, USA 7s, USA Rugby

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