The Hartford Wild Rose women's rugby club practices at Cronin Park Thursday evening. The team will play in the Division II Women's Senior Club playoffs of the New England Rugby Football Union.
HARTFORD — Last fall, when the Hartford Wild Rose women's rugby club started practicing, no one was really sure how the season would go. Some players from the previous year had moved and rugby no longer fit into others' schedules, so numbers were down a bit.
But then a club in Springfield didn't have enough players to field a team and 8 or 10 of those players traveled down I-91 to Hartford. All of a sudden, the Wild Roses had a deep, talented group of women.
"They came in with a lot of talent and we have a lot of structure," Hartford coach Marinda Reynolds said. "The fact that we have a coach; not all teams have that. We were able to get everybody working on the same page. It was seamless; it was like we always had played together. Everybody bought in, everybody saw the level of talent we had and the opportunity we had and we ran with it."
The Roses started winning and they kept winning, six straight matches, which put them on top of the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) Tier B standings. They beat the club from Worcester in the NERFU championship semifinals but fell to Providence in the finals, 45-7.
That was in November. The winter intervened, as it does in New England, and spring play just started up again (although the club did practice indoors over the winter).
Saturday, the Wild Roses beat Danbury 58-12 in the Atlantic regional semifinals, advancing to the Atlantic regional finals May 5. That winner will go to the USA Rugby national championship quarterfinals
"We had 10 different players score [Saturday]," Carrie Meckel, the club's treasurer, wrote in an email. "The best part was that despite injuries and illness, we rallied and played Roses rugby. We had players in positions they'd never played in before - nothing changed. Tremendous individual efforts and solid team play."
It was like we always had played together. Everybody bought in, everybody saw the level of talent we had and the opportunity we had ...
Hartford Wild Roses coach Marinda Reynolds
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"It's really exciting," said club president Ashley LaPlante, 27, of Middletown, who has played the sport for eight years. "It's definitely the coaching. We've had coaches on and off, but we have three committed coaches now. And the team culture is great. There's no drama. They want to make this the best season."
LaPlante is an engineer with an aerospace company. There are more engineers. There are teachers. Occupational therapists. There are 18-year-olds. There are 35-year-olds. Women who have played since they were young, like Megan Hann (another engineer), who started playing in Buffalo, N.Y., when she was in eighth grade. Her dad is a coach. There are women who were athletes in other sports who decided to take up rugby.
"I think the biggest difference between this team and other teams – I've played on a lot of teams – is that they know each other so well and play so well together," said Hann, 25, of Amherst, Mass. "There's a lot of depth too. And the players are versatile."
"Old school rugby, when I started playing, was very position-specific," Reynolds said. "Certain positions only did certain things. But we play a very open play style, where everybody's contributing all of the time. But also, while we're not necessarily the largest team, we're fast."
There are three women's clubs in Connecticut in Hartford, Danbury and New Haven. They draw from the local colleges, many of whom have club teams.
"We're the most established team in Connecticut," Reynolds said. "We've been around since 1976 in varying levels of competitiveness. We have good relationships with Central, UConn – a lot of the college teams around here have teams. UHart. Schools in New Haven. People move here and they've played before. We also pick up people who have never played a sport and decide it's now time. We'll teach people who have never played before. We get a lot of former athletes who are looking for something else to do."