Recruiting in any type of collegiate sports program has inherent difficulties, but having to overcome preconceived, negative notions and unfamiliarity with the sport makes the task much more demanding.
The USC women’s club rugby team faced this situation in its inaugural season during the spring semester of 2009.
As a newly established club, filling the minimum of 15 players needed to play in games proved to be a significant challenge.
“It was a real struggle. A lot of times we didn’t have subs and we were playing against teams with two times the players,” senior Shawna Kleban said.
In certain circumstances, the team was forced to use players from other colleges as fill-ins, which made creating team chemistry difficult.
“Having to borrow players made it hard to develop camaraderie,” USC coach Peter Tillotson said.
To promote a stronger connection within the team, the club is focusing on recruiting. But the lack of recognition of rugby, especially in Southern California, creates hardships in finding newcomers willing to try out the sport.
“It is difficult to recruit new girls, because many are not familiar with the sport,” Kleban said.
Given the adverse situation, the club has continued with an aggressive recruiting campaign in hopes of filling the dire need for players during the upcoming spring season.
Recruiting tactics have included manning a booth at the involvement fair, selling T-shirts, having team members bring friends to practice and giving talks at sorority house dinners to increase awareness and attract new members.
The Greek presence is beneficial to the team as its looks to increase its numbers.
“A decent amount of the team is Greek. We are trying to build on the sisterhood idea,” sophomore Kimberley Carder said.
As the number of team members and each one’s individual commitment increases, the club strives for continued growth and the ability to function on its own.
“Our goal is to make the club self-sufficient,” said junior Jessica Choi, president and founder of club.
To achieve this aspiration, the club plans to establish a rookie development program, headed by Carder.
“[The program] will peg a rookie with an experienced player,” Carder said. “This mentor program will help promote a better understanding of the sport.”
As part of this initiative, Carder looks to hold an additional practice composed of solely rookies to teach essential skills and rugby vernacular, and to build teamwork.
Successful implementation of this program would allow the club to build on some of the strong points that Tillotson has emphasized.
“The team’s biggest strengths are their enthusiasm and ability to pick up the game,” he explained.
The club’s roster currently lists 27 members, but it is always looking for more to try out.
“We would like to field at least two teams with 15 players each,” Tillotson said.
Currently the team has been participating in off-season training and the club has made evident strides over the course of the semester.
The team has played in several games to maintain playing shape, including the Scrum by the Sea Tournament in San Diego on Nov. 7 and 8, where it was able to win two matches.
Ultimately, Tillotson would like to see the club be on par with other rugby programs around the nation.
“[The aim] is to reach the level to compete with the more experienced clubs, and to play at the high level which [USC is] capable of playing,” he said.
The coaching staff has played a critical role in helping the team achieve some of its success in the off-season.
“Coach has been great in the development of the core of the team,” team captain Bonnie Wong said.
As the team develops, it looks to be competitive in the Collegiate Women’s Second Division of the Southern California Rugby Football Union.
Although the club continues to grow and achieves greater amounts of success, the team maintains a true sense of what sports are fundamentally about.
Junior Luisa Lam explained that the main purpose of the club is “learning about the game, not necessarily winning, but enjoying rugby and having fun.”
With this outlook, the club looks to continue and grow in number and in spirit by embracing the multifaceted sport of rugby and establishing long-lasting bonds between players.