The UCSB women’s rugby team has started its season off strong with a 1-0 record in league play, despite injury problems and short rosters.

In just its sixth year as a club team at UCSB, women’s rugby is looking to take the Southern California League from perennial powerhouse San Diego, despite losing three likely starters to torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs) in the preseason.

“We’ve lost three of our starters,” said Phoebe Boone, junior flanker, president and captain of the team. “But we found three excellent replacements and right now we’re looking better than we’ve ever looked before.”
Women’s rugby has grown steadily over the six years of its existence, starting with only 15 members, the minimum required to play a match, to having around 50 women on the roster last season, so many that they decided to enter two sides this year into the league, both competing in the same division, Division I. Thus far, only 35 women have shown up to play, stretching the rosters thin, which was only compounded by the early injury problems.

“We’re always looking for new girls to play,” Boone said. “It’s never too late.”

One of the players lost to a torn ACL was sophomore prop and team vice president Corinne Lytle. Despite her injury, Lytle remains positive about both teams’ chances this year in league.

“We’ve improved so much,” Lytle said. “We have a very experienced rookie class coming in and a strong veteran core.”

One of those veterans is junior eight-man Blair Groefsema. Groefsema, the team enforcer, takes pride in her physically demanding role on the team.

“I’m the one who hits hard,” Groefsema said. “If someone on the other team is out there talking crap, it’s my job to hit them, and hit them hard.”

With the physical play of Groefsema and the leadership of Boone, the Santa Barbara team is confident in its chances this season.

“We have a good chance of making it to nationals this year,” Groefsema said. “We have a lot of potential. It’s just a matter of getting everything together.”

The intense physical aspect of the sport makes the women rugby players easy to separate from the crowd of students walking through campus.

“When we wear skirts or shorts, our legs are usually covered in bruises,” Boone said. “There are lots of sprained fingers and about one concussion a week. But no one’s had stitches in a couple years.”

After defeating UCLA in their first match 19-5 and 12-0, UCSB looks forward to the tougher matches of the season. UCSB plays against Arizona State on Feb. 5 and San Diego on Feb. 26.