Scorching: adjective: very hot. harsh; severe; very fast.
All those things are an accurate description of UC Davis Women’s Rugby. UC Davis women had an outstanding run last year going on to be the D1 Women’s Spring Champions defeating University of Virginia in a true battle! They have kept the same pace this year. The UC Davis women are on fire! They have rolled through their conference facing almost no opposition (based on score lines). The Aggies for the year (so that counts non-league games, tournaments, and the likes for 15s) are averaging close to 50 points a game and giving up less than 10. They have only two losses all year and those are to two varsity programs (Lindenwood and BYU) and even in those the Aggies fought hard. Their 2nd side is defeating some of the nationally top ranked DII first sides (such as a win 32-27 win over a top five Fresno State women’s side).
If you followed the UC Davis women last season or read our feature on them last season the fact that they are scorching the women's rugby landscape should not be a surprise. The Aggies success doesn’t come solely from a few talented players but from the program that Davis has instituted.
To learn more about the current success Aggies are having and where they are headed we were able to interview Davis’ Sydnee Watanabe the senior civil engineering major who also is the Aggies’ backline captain! See the interview below.
The Rugby Republic (RR): So how many players on this year team were a part of last year’s successful championship winning side?
Sydnee Watanabe (SW): Last year we graduated 10 seniors, and of those 10, 7 of them were starters on our A-side team, so there was a big turnover.
RR: Okay, so how have you been able to continue to get more players involved with the program?
SW: Each year we really focus on recruiting new players during freshman and transfer orientations and we also do a lot of flying during the first few weeks of fall quarter. Rugby isn’t a sport traditionally played growing up around here so when we are at a recruiting event or flyering around campus we like to be super juiced about the sport and let them know how awesome it is. Most of the time it will either peak people’s interest enough to make them want to come try it out or they will immediately know it’s not for them. We just try our best to be inviting and approach everyone.
RR: UC Davis has fielded two sides this year and have ensured that your second sides have gotten their own games even against other team's other first sides. How is this helping your success?
SW: The second side is the up and coming first side! In the next couple of years most of them will be playing A-side and we want them be prepared and confident enough for that. The more games and the better quality matches they get early on will only make them better rugby players for the future. Our B-side and players vying for an A-side spot are really the ones pushing everyone else to work harder at practices. They set the tone for everyone else to follow.
RR: Davis has been so dominant this season, winning and racking up points (defeating teams by an average of 40 points a game). What is the secret?
SW: I think our success on the field is a result of our personal connections off it. We’re a close-knit group and have formed some pretty incredible bonds. It’s a lot easier to want to work harder and ask more of yourself when you’re working with 14 of your closest friends doing the same thing to achieve a common goal.
RR: So based on that how have you guys fostered a winning culture with the team?
SW: We have some pretty amazing coaches who always stress how important it is take care of our team culture first. They know this team is special, not just because we’ve been winning, but because it has been a second family to so many past and present players. This year before season started Erin (Erin Martin the forwards captain) and I sat down with the coaches and talked about what we wanted to accomplish for the year. We saw the possibility to take this team far and wanted to really focus on reaching our full potential. Everyone really respects and looks up to our coaches so it’s easy to follow their lead when they direct our team. They let it be known to the team they think we have a pretty good shot at nationals and have pushed us from the beginning to always want more.
RR: The season is almost over and then come the playoffs, how poised will you be in the post-season?
SW: For now we’re keeping our heads down and continuing to work during conditioning and practices. We’ve been focusing on taking it one game at a time throughout the whole season and that’s our plan for playoffs. We’re not counting out any of our opponents. Right now we are putting all of our efforts towards our game against Stanford. We’ve seen some great things from them and we are expecting them to come out hungry and put up a tough match.
RR: The burning question. Is the goal another title? If yes how are you working toward that?
SW: That definitely is the goal! We’ve been working hard for the past seven months and have no intention of slowing down. We are continuing to develop our game and our style of play every week.
RR: You’ve faced some great teams this year (Lindenwood, BYU, Stanford, Cal, Chico, UCSD, etc.), what has been the difference between Davis and the other teams. Your scores and output show it isn't luck.
SW: I’m not sure what the difference is honestly. I don’t really know the dynamic of other teams and what their mindsets are. This year we played some teams that were better than us and they did deserve to win. But even when we’re down we’ve always been supportive towards one another and we play with a lot of heart. We always say to play for the patch and for each other, and it has really helped us all get on the same page. I think one of our greatest strengths is knowing how to play as a full 15 and not as individuals.
RR: What can we expect from Davis for the rest of the year?
SW: The Sunday after finals we have our first playoff game at Stanford in Palo Alto. We will be hosting the next round of playoffs here in Davis in April and depending how we do then we could have the opportunity to go to Georgia for Nationals in May! We also won a 7’s qualifying tournament in the fall, so we will be travelling to Colorado in May as well for 7’s nationals.
The UC Davis women are truly on fire! They have a opportunity to make a run at national titles in both 15s and 7s in the same year/season as Sydnee noted. They have tested themselves against top level sides and successful against others. The insights that Sydnee shared lead us to believe not only do the Aggies have a real shot to be like their men’s side counter parts (to win back-to-back titles) the way they are developing their second sides and rest of their players they will be poised to be a national power for years to come. The Aggies clearly do the tangible work to be winners (training, playing, recruiting, practicing, etc.), but more importantly they are creating a supportive team culture, living rugby values, and developing the next generation which also fuel their success.
We are grateful to the ladies of UC Davis for again working with us to do this interview. They are student athletes who manage an intensive academic workload and equally intensive rugby schedule so we know it takes effort to make time to do this. So thank you to UC Davis Women’s Rugby President Rebecca “Becca” Graff for setting this up.
We don’t want to take sides and we wish all the California collegiate women’s sides success in their runs for a title (but if we are honest it would be awesome to see the Aggies win back to back, or to win both 7s and 15s in the same season). That would be great for the game here in California.