The Evolution of Women’s Rugby

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By M.A. Sorensen

United States Eagle and United States Rugby Hall of Fame Member

M.A. Sorensen playing hooker during the 1991 Rugby World Cup

I have been involved in rugby since the 1970s and it has been quite a long journey. I started out playing college rugby at William and Mary and later had the fortune of playing on selects sides and then in three World Cups for the United States National team. The game has changed quite a bit since I played and witnessing the evolution of women’s rugby has been incredible. The last two years I have had the pleasure of attending the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) in Chester, PA and the professionalism and quality of competition has been amazing to witness first hand.

When I was first starting out in rugby, resources were extremely limited. As I reached the more competitive levels, I had to balance a career in the medical field with my rugby aspirations. I remember worrying about getting to practice on time or being able to afford to play the game I love.

I am not sure how many people know this, but the 1991 team that captured the Women’s World Cup in Wales had to pay its own way to get there. We paid for our own air fare, hotels and meals during our stay in Wales. We were not expected to do much in that tournament but we shocked the world and picked up arguably the most impressive accomplishment in the history of United States rugby.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and the growth of the women’s game has been amazing. Now, women are earning full time contracts at the United States Olympic Training Center and being paid to play rugby. While the salaries are still relatively small, I think it is amazing how far we have come.

The growth of the women’s college game has not gone unnoticed either. There are now a number of varsity programs throughout the United States and women’s rugby is now an emerging NCAA sport. Events like the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship add legitimacy and exposure that had been lacking in the past. Last year I witnessed two of these varsity programs play in an epic CRC final with Life besting Lindenwood in the final and this year I watched Lindenwood capture it all on national television.

Over the last several years the women have gotten more and more air time on broadcast networks. This year, the women played in the stadium and the quarterfinals onward were aired on the ESPN family of networks and on the new digital streaming platform ESPN+.

The exposure and opportunities to play at such a high level for these college kids is critical to the continued growth of the sport. More and more teams and players are getting the opportunity to compete on a grand stage and hopefully continue their playing careers well beyond college.

Women’s rugby is on the rise. I firmly believe that in the near future there will be another set of women’s Eagles joining us on the podium as World Cup Champions.

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