A woman’s place is in the Maul

It’s easy for a woman to make friends while in high school and college. They share the same classrooms, cheer for the same teams and support each other through it all. Once those years are behind you, it’s hard to find friendships like that again.

Jennifer Studer and Ann Diamond, both 26, became friends while playing rugby in the early 2000s at Northern Illinois University. Rugby is well established in St. Charles, where Diamond grew up. The Fox Valley area has men’s, high school and youth rugby, but the women’s team had disbanded.

“It was time for another woman’s club,” says Studer, of Lockport. Diamond and Studer re-established Fox Valley Vixens Women’s Rugby club in 2011.

Rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., but not many people know how the game is played. Similar to American football, rugby players use an oblong ball and attempt to score in the opposition’s end zone, called a try zone. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. This high adrenaline game involves two teams of 15 players who are running, passing, tackling, and scrumming to keep possession of the ball. Unlike American football, this full-contact sport is done without the benefit of pads or helmets.

Starting with only a few members, the Vixens played any team they could find. In 2013, when their roster had grown to 24 women, they were thrilled to become a part of the Midwest Rugby Territory.

“This past fall was our first season in the league. It was very exciting for us and changed everything for the club,” Studer says.

Alli Carroll, 23, of Wheaton, started playing with the Vixens in 2012. While playing rugby at NIU, Carroll wanted more time on the field and heard the Vixens were looking for players. It was a perfect match. The difference between the teams was that she wasn’t just playing rugby, she was putting her heart into the team.

“It’s hard to be involved with the Vixens without helping it grow,” says Carroll.

Shortly after joining the team, Carroll was elected fundraiser chair.

Rugby is still a newer sport and it is hard to build interest, especially for women’s teams.

“It takes a bit of convincing when you tell women that it’s really fun,” Carroll says.

It was Carroll who recruited Anna Kinsella, 25, to join the team after coming to a practice last August.

“I never played a sport before,” says Kinsella, a Winfield resident.

The other women showed her how to tackle and pass and even let her borrow a pair of cleats.

“Everyone was super nice from that first practice.”

Although she is still learning, Kinsella says this has been a great experience for her. She is doing something she has never done, and she is happy with her success.

The Vixens spring season, which started March 29, will continue through May. The spring season only includes six games, but Studer explains that the more players they get, the more games they can play. The good news is that you don’t have to know anything about rugby to join.

“You don’t need any experience, and it doesn’t matter if you ever played a sport in your life,” Studer says.

The seasoned players help out the newbies, Studer encourages.

“It’s a really supportive group.”