There’s something totally badass about a woman who likes to literally get down and dirty. Or in this case, a group of women who don’t mind a little scrapes and bruises (and often times, muscle strains and fractured bones) as they run, pass, kick, catch, and tackle, regardless of weather and field conditions, all in the name of this popular male-dominated, full-contact sport, rugby.
But this is just a day in the life of the Albany Knickerbockers Women’s Rugby Team, making them, in our eyes, badasses for life. Also known as “The Sirens”, this competitive all-women rugby team travels the nation to participate in the Division I league under the governance of USA Rugby. They earned this spot after winning the Division II National Championship in 2010, ten years after they were established by the Albany Knickerbockers Rugby Football Club.
If you’ve been considering taking up rugby but aren’t sure if you meet the physical requirements, we have some good news for you: it’s not “one size fits all”. One of The Sirens coaches Lori Staples explains, “One great aspect of rugby is that it takes athletes of all shapes, sizes, and abilities to play. There are 15 players per side and, much like soccer, it is a continuous, free-flowing, back and forth game where you often switch between offense and defense quickly. Some players are small, quick sprinters, some are bigger and very strong in contact, and others are mid-sized power runners who are also good tacklers.”
And even better news: The Sirens are constantly recruiting new players. But what does it take to join their team? Being a member of The Sirens since the very beginning, Coach Staples knows this too well, “Becoming a Siren is more about attitude than anything else. If you are fearless, adventurous, and open to learning, we can help you translate whatever athletic background you bring to the table and succeed.”
“Some players come to us having played rugby in high school or college; others have played soccer, hockey, football, lacrosse, basketball, etc. or have been involved in CrossFit; and others have no previous athletic or sports background [at all],” she goes on, “We accept anyone who is willing to work hard and will work them to develop from any skill level. It’s hard to predict who will succeed, so while it is helpful to be a good overall athlete, it more comes down to attitude and field presence.”There are many benefits to playing rugby including building strength, improving flexibility, building self-discipline, reducing stress, developing speed and endurance to name a few. But the biggest benefit of them all, particularly when you play for The Sirens? Coach tells us, “[Rugby] can be very inclusive. It’s a great way to meet people when you relocate or travel, or even if you just want a new athletic challenge. Rugby is a sport that has a lot of kinship and automatic acceptance among players. For college players starting out in a new city, joining a club team is a great way to have an instant social network that’s willing to help you find housing or work.
During her time with The Sirens, Coach Staples has seen a diverse group of women play for the team, “Our players come from various socio-economic backgrounds that are bound by one thing–their love for rugby. As long as you’re someone who is willing to challenge and push yourself physically and mentally, then you will always find a place on a rugby club. The support network that one can develop from rugby is amazing and strong. From supporting each other on the field, to supporting each other through personal struggles even far after leaving the pitch, you always have your rugby family to back you up.”How you develop that support network comes down to the commitment you make to the game and the team. Coach goes into details, “We have three seasons: Fall (August thru late October/early November), Spring (March thru late May/early June) and Summer (June thru August). Fall and Spring are 15S rugby (15 players per side, 40 minutes per half), and summer is 7S rugby (7 players per side, 7 minute halves).”
“We typically practice twice a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and play games on Saturdays,” she continues, “It doesn’t cost anything to come out and start practicing. [But] if you decide to stick with it and join the club, it’s just under $200 for the year for a new player to join and be registered. For veterans, it’s just under $300 per year [which covers] club dues and USA Rugby registration fees. We expect players to be able to make, on average, at least one practice per week and most of the games–both home and away.”
And what words of encouragement would Coach Staples give someone who is thinking about taking up rugby but a little too intimidated to give it a try? “Rugby is for anyone who has the desire to be a better version of themselves. You need to be able to push yourself physically and challenge yourself mentally. But if you stick with it, the rewards are countless and you’ll also develop life-long friendships.”
Spring season for The Sirens has begun, but it’s not too late to get in on the fun! For more information about these badass women (and the rest of the Albany Knickerbockers Rugby teams) including membership and how you can #BeAKnick, league information, schedule and team roster, visit www.AlbanyKnicks.org.
Photos: David O’Neill