MTU rugby club attempts to empower women while having fun

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech women’s rugby club was formed during the 2015-16 season. Tanna Windham, a junior exercise science major, is the president of the club. Given that the club is fairly new to Michigan Tech, Windham wants to enhance membership and continue improving for future wins on the competitive side.

“I was just voted (president) in January, but I’ve been (in) the rugby club for two years,” said Windham. “One big thing with Rugby is you have to have great sportsmanship with your own team and, especially, with the other team. Our sport is focusing on uplifting each other to be strong (and) tough woman. That’s what we try and aim to do.

“We try to recruit as many people as possible to show how exciting, uplifting, and energetic rugby is for all shapes, sizes, affiliations and such. Usually it’s a male-based sport, but we’re trying to show the positive side to (having) female athletes as well.”

Starting off small, the club is gaining traction three years later.

“I know when the club first started, it originally started with five or six girls, so we’ve seen it fluctuating (throughout) the years,” said Windham. “Right now, we’re at the highest membership (with) almost 30 girls, which is pretty amazing to see, especially at Tech, (given) that we have so (few) girls (who attend the school).”

“(Our club roster) has fluctuated over the last few years,” she said. “When I started in 2017, we didn’t have as many girls, but it rose once a few people I knew joined. In 2018, we were very low on numbers, (but) this year we gained 10-15 girls, which is pretty substantial.”

The rugby season is split into Fall and Spring sections. The Fall season is more competitive and the Spring season is more for conditioning.

“Our main season is in the Fall and goes until the end of October,” she said. “That’s our big competition season (where) we (compete) against Wisconsin schools, Northern Michigan and a few others. During the Spring season right now, we (compete in) a few social competitions. In the Spring, we condition more and go to social tournaments around the Midwest.”

A typical rugby match is a long, grueling game, but that is part of the fun.

“Rugby is completely consistent,” said Windham. “We’re going for 80 minutes straight, 40 minute halves and a ten minute rest. Our specific team usually has just enough for 15 (players) on the field, so (we don’t have) many substitutions.

“We’re constantly moving. It’s pretty tough. You would need both resistance and strength training, so it’s pretty tough.”

Another objective of the club is to enhance female representation in a predominantly male-centered sport.

“(It’s) important, especially this day in age (with) how strong, and how prominent, female presence is in the world right now,” she said. “It’s really helpful (to show) that we can be trough, strong and outgoing. A lot of the girls (in) our rugby club are very outgoing and involved in the Michigan Tech community.

“They are focused primarily in sports and they try and help out others (on the team). We try and be as tough as we can while still being sweet.”

Being physically tough and mentally tough is, by no means, easy.

“Rugby is a tough sport mentally and physically, so we try and incorporate our tough side from a physical standpoint to, (in turn), become tough mentally to become strong individuals,” she said.

On March 22, the club competed in a social competition in Nashville, Tennessee. This year’s squad is composed of new players, so the team uses the competitions as opportunities to teach the newer players. Even though the team did not come away with any wins, Windham is proud of how much her team learned from that experience.

“We just got back from our big spring competition in Nashville, Tennessee,” Windham said. “It’s a two-day long tournament. We play two long games on Saturday and one short game on Sunday. We go against teams from all over the nation. We (faced) Saginaw Valley State University and Bowling Green State University.”

While they did not win, Wyndham feels the team grew considerably.

“Looking at a scoreboard, we didn’t do completely great but, as a team, we really succeeded,” she said. “We had a lot new members this spring season, (so) watching them grow and become great athletes and (get into) the sport right away, was amazing to see. Their skill level went up exponentially.

“It was amazing to see how well they caught on to the knowledge of how to play. As a team, we worked really well together even though our score didn’t represent that.”

The rugby club will compete in a tournament on April 13 in Chicago. Windham just wants to see her team get better and improve with every match as they work towards more victories as a group.

“We want to win a few games,” she said. “We won one game at Nash Bash last season, but we weren’t able to win any this year.

“We hope to win a few more games during our competitive season in the Fall, so that’s our goal. We’re still learning (and are) a new club.”