After a long and restful winter break, the UCSB women’s rugby team kicks off regular season play at Arizona State on Jan. 21.

After starting the preseason 3-0 – with wins over Claremont McKenna, UC Davis and Cal Poly – the Gauchos traveled to UC San Diego for a tournament and lost all three matches they played.

“We went 3-3 in the preseason. But we actually won all three full games we played,” senior club President Phoebe Boone said. “We had a really good preseason, especially going to Davis and playing against teams up north. It’s always good to play against teams out of your league. A lot of girls got a lot of playing time and we got to see what they could do.”

In addition to a few incoming freshmen, the Gauchos have two players with accolades under their belts. Last summer, five UCSB players were invited to a training camp for the SoCal Under-23 Women’s Rugby All-Star Team. Of that five, two made it past the camp, junior flyhalf Rosie Krauter and senior captain and eightman Blair Groefsema. Krauter made the National Development Training Camp and Groefsema was chosen to play for the National Under-23 Eagles Women’s Rugby practice group.

With the preseason experience of the newcomers and the summer play of Krauter and Groefsema, the Gauchos are looking to start the regular season strong in the Southern California Rugby Football Union Division I.

“There are only four of us in our league, [Arizona State], [UC San Diego] and UCLA,” Boone said. “[The Sun Devils] are our toughest competitors and UC San Diego has been a powerhouse for the last four to five years. They are a difficult team to beat.”

Arizona State has won the conference championship four out of the past seven years. The Sun Devils have been to the Final Four once, the Elite Eight once and the Sweet Sixteen twice since 1999. In that span, they have also had at least one player named an All-American every year. In the November San Diego tournament, the Sun Devils got knocked out in the semifinals with a 10-7 loss to Chico State. They finished with two wins over UCLA, Humboldt State, and the Gauchos.

UC San Diego, one of the Gauchos’ division competitors, ended the 2005 season as the only undefeated collegiate team on the Division I side of the Southern California Rugby Football Union. The undefeated record earned the club a #4 ranking by the American Rugby News.

UCLA, a newcomer to Division I rugby, has played at the collegiate level for two years. Last season, the Bruins won the Division II championships in their first year of collegiate play. Before joining the collegiate ranks, the Bruins had no affiliation with the university athletics.

In such a tough league, UCSB looks to bank on its well-seasoned veterans and talented newcomers to put together a winning season.

“[Arizona State] looks to be our strongest competition,” Boone said. “They and UCSD field strong teams, but after seeing [them] in November, they look to be a really strong team so we have our work cut out for us.”