By Dylan Lee
Rugby may not be the most commonly played sport, but — as the 16 high school-age girls who make up the Lady Devils club team can attest — it can be one of the most rewarding.
While fame and distinction might lie elsewhere, the girls of the Lady Devils choose to play rugby for other reasons: among them a lifetime’s supply of memories, team camaraderie and plenty of strong competition. And for those who say girls aren’t tough enough for a game like rugby, these athletes will break that stereotype with a season’s worth of blood, sweat and tears.
Many Americans associate rugby with football, but the two sports are actually quite different. Originally invented in 19th century England, rugby is played with 15 players on the field at once in an 80-minute game. There are no plays or time stoppages like in football, which in turn makes the game more player-run. No protective pads are worn except for an optional scrum cap, a piece of thin leather worn like a helmet.
Within the sport’s rugged tradition, coaches like the Lady Devils’ Jordan Apodaca teach players to follow the “laws” of rugby, no matter their age level.
Apodaca, a 2011 Davis High graduate, is a prime example of someone living The Rugby Life. As a freshman at DHS, a friend dragged her to a Lady Devils tryout. Though it turned out that her friend was not much of a rugby person and ended up quitting soon after, Apodaca was hooked and went on to have a stellar prep career.
Now a student at Sacramento City College, Apodaca has taken over as the club’s coach. Her deep roots in the program and plans to stick around town are a godsend for the Lady Devils, who have struggled to find a coach willing to make a long-term commitment.
According to Brigi Glass, one of the team’s captains, previous coaches were good but Apodaca is “a great coach” who is “going to be here in the future.”
Adds Apodaca, “Rugby is my life. I came from a small town and all of my friends are from rugby. Rugby … basically consumes my life.”
Glass has similar feelings about the game. The Devils’ captain of backs — a defensive position — has been playing for four years. While Glass mentioned that the ability to legally tackle other people is a huge factor, the main the reason she loves to play rugby is the camaraderie, not just with teammates, but even with opponents.
After each rugby matchup, the teams come together for a social, which is essentially an after-game picnic. Glass said this unique display of sportsmanship is often cited by rugby players as one of the best aspects of the game:
“With the social, it’s very hard to hold grudges because you are right there having fun with the other team.”
According to Glass, she and her teammates have become friends who spend time together on and off the field. She also is a strong believer that rugby can shape young girls (and boys) into strong leaders.
Now one month into the 2013 season, the Lady Devils are starting to roll, despite often playing undermanned. After opening with a pair of losses at the NorCal Kick-Off Tournament, the locals won the final game of that event and haven’t looked back. In their first regular season contest on Feb. 2, the Devils defeated Rancho Cordova, 59-12, despite having just 13 players suited up.
After a forfeit gave them another win on Saturday, the locals will take this weekend off before hosting Bowling Green on Feb. 22.
Low community awareness and the general idea that rugby is too violent for girls, has the Devils struggling to find enough members. More information about the club can be found on its website, ladydevils.wix.com/devilrugby, and girls are invited to just come out to practice and see the game for themselves. Practices are held at Community Park just north of the library on Tuesday and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m.
Players and coaches have found the sport to be a great physical exercise and note that the camaraderie around the game is something special. And even after a tough game, there’s always the post-game picnic.