Three years ago, Amanda Martinez SC ’20 couldn’t even fill a full women’s rugby team. Now, she can barely squeeze the Claremont Foxes’ more than 30 members on the field for practice.
“It’s a very physically demanding sport, but people all over the world have been quickly falling in love with it in the last few decades,” said Martinez, a team captain.
That’s certainly the case in Claremont, where the Foxes, the 5C women’s rugby team, has grown rapidly in number over the last few years.
“Just a few years ago, it would be hard to get 15 people to even show up to practice, and now we are expecting a solid 30-man squad for the year,” Martinez said.
Rugby, a contact sport similar to football, can be played in a seven-a-side or 15-a-side format. The Foxes play both ways, “with the exact same ball, the exact same rules and for the exact amount of time” as men’s rugby, Martinez said.
For the Foxes, increased numbers have coincided with greater success on the field; they moved up to Division II from Division III two years ago with their 15-a-side team, finishing as runners-up to Tulane in their first-ever USA Rugby Division II Spring College Championship final.
This past spring, the 7-a-side championships saw Claremont beat out San Jose State University to finish third in the nation — but the Foxes want more.
Martinez is optimistic about a national title. “Hopefully, third time’s a charm,” she said.
The Foxes were founded in 1995, and for the first few years, struggled to attract women to what has traditionally been a male-dominated sport. But increasingly, women are becoming more involved — to the occasional surprise of onlookers.
Martinez recalled that when the team travels for games, people in their hotels have been confused by women playing rugby, and at times ask if it’s a non-contact sport. It’s not.
“We play full-contact, 80 minutes, same rules, just like the men,” she said. “Our game is just as tough as theirs, and I doubt any rugby fan would disagree.”
The sport is increasing in popularity, both at the high school and college level because it provides an option for “tough people who are looking to start up a sport,” Martinez said. Rugby’s popularity is also growing around the world, especially after being added to the Olympics in 2016.
But the sport’s newfound appeal has been especially noticeable among women in the 5C community.
“I’ve heard that our team [has] a … healthier, happier environment and community than other [sports] teams on campus,” Martinez said of the Foxes.
Like many of her teammates, Martinez’s first sport was rugby. She started playing in high school, but was initially apprehensive to the idea.
After trying it, though, “I knew it was something I was missing … in my life,” Martinez said.
The team’s rugby director Evan Wollen echoed Martinez’s sentiments.
“It’s just an awesome sport. Fun to play and exciting to watch,” he said. “It is also an inclusive game with every body shape, size and physical ability having a position distinctly suited for it. … There is a sense of [camaraderie] you just can’t find anywhere else.”
Both Wollen and Martinez encouraged other women to give rugby a try, especially if they’re someone looking for a good workout, to have fun or to join a team of strong women.
“Women should try rugby if they want to get rid of any stresses they might have in their lives. They should try rugby if they want to see their bodies achieve great things,” Martinez said. “I’ve tackled girls twice my size, and that alone has boosted my confidence and my perception of what I am capable of doing.”