Claremont Foxes Womxn’s Rugby dominates in season-opener against UC Irvine

A rugby player runs on the field with the ball.
Adeena Liang PO ’23 outsprints UC Irvine’s defenders to score a try. (Courtesy: Brett Reilly)

Around a hundred spectators gathered around Claremont McKenna College’s Parents Field on Saturday in anticipation of the Claremont Foxes Womxn’s Rugby team’s first 15s game in almost two years.

Some set up on the sidelines to support their friends on the field, while others had stumbled upon the game, intrigued by the Home Depot music playing from a speaker on Green Hall’s balcony. Regardless of why they were there, everyone cheered as the Foxes charged to the try-zone over and over throughout the two 40-minute halves. 

Facing UC Irvine, the Foxes dominated their opponents at an impressive score of 72-5.

“I think it was fun to start the season with a win; I think we definitely all want to clean up our play a little bit, but everyone is happy overall,” scrum-half Kate McArthur SC ‘24 said. 

Getting off to a hot offensive start by scoring 24 points within the first 20 minutes, the Foxes never looked back on defense. After scoring their only try of the game in the 24th minute, Irvine was shut out for the rest of the game due to a tenacious Claremont defense. 

India Soranson-Way SC ‘23, the game’s top scorer, scored tries in the 10th, 20th and 39th minute. Maya Nichols SC ‘22, Madeleine Masser-Frye HM ‘23 each scored two tries. Rookie Caroline Bullock CM ‘24 was given Player of the Game honors for her stellar debut, aiding in both offense and defense. Forward Savanna Beans HM ‘22 knocked in six two-point kicks in between the goal posts, completing 6 conversions for a total of 12 points. 

In the fall, the Foxes competed in 7-on-7 games and qualified for the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship in May. The team’s focus, however, is on the spring season with 15-on-15 games, with a goal of qualifying for 15s National Championships. 

The Foxes have had very successful previous seasons, receiving runner-up in the 2018 15s championship and third place in 2019. Their goal for this season is to make it to the championship game once more and end up on top.

“I think the goal of any team is to, you know, win nationals which I think we definitely have a shot at,” rookie wing Catie Cryan SC ‘25 said.

The field was surrounded by fans on the sidelines, with a much greater turnout than expected.

The game had a casual air, with some students blasting music from a speaker propped up on the balcony of Green Hall and adding informal commentary throughout the game. 

“To whoever it was playing ESPN music during warm ups, I really appreciated that,” Cryan said. “That brought me joy, got me pumped for the game. Everybody was just super excited and had so much energy.” 

This season, the team is guided by two female coaches for the first time in Foxes’ history, including Assistant Back Coach Ana Lavongtheung SC ’21, known as Coach A. Playing as a scrum-half for the Foxes during her time on campus, she said her tenure was a defining part of her college experience and helped her realize her passion for rugby.

“Ever since that first practice, I was hooked not only on the Foxes, but rugby in general,” Lavongtheung said. 

While still playing for the Foxes, she then got recruited to play for the Laos women’s national rugby team.

“[In] 2019… I was able to play in Indonesia,” Lavongtheung said. “So that was pretty cool to go from never not even knowing what rugby was to playing internationally in less than three years.”

Lavongtheung credits this improvement to the Foxes coaches, which is partly why she wanted to join the coaching staff after graduating.

“Ever since I was a freshman, we didn’t have a female coach, so I always knew I wanted to coach. I thought I was just gonna coach basketball, but I really love the strategy side of rugby and I felt like it came naturally to me,” she said. “I just knew I wanted there to be more women leadership in the sport, especially on a women’s team.”

Lavongtheung describes her coaching style as “approachable,” and she especially likes helping those who are newcomers like she once was.

“I really love showing new girls the game because I remember when I was a freshman,” she said. “Rugby usually starts with a whole bunch of people trying the sport out, so I wanted to be an additional coach to help show people how to pass and give them that extra support.”

McArthur is one newcomer who Lavongtheung coaches. Although she played touch-rugby in high school, tackle rugby feels like a whole new sport to her, so she’s grateful for the coaches and team environment who have greatly aided in her transition.

“It doesn’t feel cutthroat, like competing for spots, but more like wanting the best for the team, and pushing and helping each other,” she said.

Cryan is also a rookie Foxes player who joined after friend and now teammate Bullock recommended she try it out.

“I literally knew nothing about rugby when I joined and yesterday I was one of the subs, which was a super big deal for me,” she said.

A highlight of the game for her was a 40-yard run, or “take” down the field, which led to another teammate finishing it out, taking the ball all the way to the try-zone. After every try, the team has a chance to kick a conversion, and to Cryan’s surprise, the coaches gave her the opportunity to attempt one.

“All of a sudden I hear, ‘Kate, you’re kicking, you’re kicking the conversion,’ and somebody is running at me with a tee and a water bottle,” she said. “And they’re like, ‘here you go,’ and I was like, ‘oh, wow, okay, so looks like I’m kicking. [It] did not go in. But that was very, very nerve wracking because I was not expecting it at all.” 

After their win over Irvine, both the players and coaches are looking forward to what the season and postseason has in store for the Foxes.

“I am really excited to see what we do next weekend at Long Beach, because it’s a different team, it’s a new game,” Cryan said. “I want to see how we implement the things that we changed last game and see what we do in practice to keep going with our skills and our teamwork.

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