Foxes women rugby step to the peak with the move to Division I

Women Rugby team in starting position during game on a grassy field
The Claremont Foxes are looking ahead to tougher competition in the spring. (Courtesy: Pam Perkins)

After two consecutive Division II national championships, the Claremont Foxes Women’s Rugby team are stepping up to a greater challenge in Division I.

The Claremont Foxes have fielded a team since the mid-nineties, traveling and competing through Southern California and serving as an introduction and continuation of rugby for all 5C students.

The Foxes owe their recent streak of dominance to a lucky break. In the spring of 2022, a heartbreaking midseason loss to the Lady Aztecs of San Diego State University (SDSU) left the Foxes just shy of a berth in the DII National Tournament. Just when it seemed as though the season was over, the Foxes snatched a spot as a result of a last-minute drop out. Foxes’ captain Caroline Bullock CM ’24 described how the team would not let the opportunity go to waste.

“It kind of felt like a mistake,” Bullock said. “Not in the sense that we didn’t deserve it, but more so that it was an opportunity that fell into our laps, and we really seized it.”

The Foxes claimed their first national championship title in a victory over the very same team that nearly knocked them out of contention in the first place: SDSU.

Riding high after their national championship victory, the Foxes embarked upon another stellar season, hoping for a repeat. Bullock said the Foxes had momentum and experience on their side, allowing them to run through the competition this past spring.

“In 2023, it felt very deliberate; we had put in the work at every single step and we were able to reap the rewards.” Bullock said. “We ended up having a perfect season. We won our regional [the competition directly preceding the national championship] by one point, and went and played Howard University and won again.”

Few ever find themselves on a national championship stage, and even fewer emerge victorious. Allowing athletes the chance to play in an elite setting, Nationals are held in a professional rugby stadium, where team member Catie Cryan SC ’25 believes allowed them to thrive.

“It was such an electric environment to be in,” Cryan said. “[Walking] onto the field is unreal.”

With back-to-back national championships under their belt and weaker regional rivals, head coach Wollen explained the Foxes’ decided to make the move to the DI club level for the 2024 season.

“There’s two major organizations that oversee college rugby, and most of our national opponents moved to the other organization,” Wollen said. “They play in the fall and we play in the spring; we could not follow them there, so moving to DI kept us with some national opponents.”

Wollen explained the team welcomes this change in competition and the prospect of a harder season.

“We’d rather play good rugby and challenge ourselves week in and week out than just win a national championship,” Wollen said. “But I really applaud our players for making that decision.”

Beyond a higher challenge level, the Foxes will be able to compete in other states during the season, and challenge new colleges like Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University.

Bullock sees the change as not so much of a leap but rather an opportunity to “[see] some new faces and [travel]  to new places” and simply a chance to “grow as individuals and as a team.”

Bullock said this change will not affect much in terms of commitment. The team will continue to keep their normal training schedule while focusing on their community and learning more skills.

“Some people have played rugby for 14 years [while others] don’t even know what a rugby ball is” as they enter the team, Bullock said.

Inclusivity and support within the team’s community is a large part of the team’s success on the rugby pitch, with support between teammates being crucial in every game. The Foxes’ team culture reinforces this mentality of inclusivity.

“I think the center of gravity would be the team culture and being inviting and having a very inclusive environment and having girls want to come out and be a part of the team,” Wollen said.

The Foxes start the season the first week of spring semester, hosting weekend games at Parents Field.

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