Stanford and Penn State have been rivals for the past four years, allowing nobody else to reach the USA Rugby Collegiate Division I National Championship match since 2004. In fact, for the past two decades these two teams have had quite a run of it in national competition:
Penn State Women’s Rugby
Nat’l Champion: 97, 00, 04, 07
2nd Place: 95, 96, 98, 01, 02, 05, 06, 08
Final 4: 93, 94, 03
Round of 8: n/a
Round of 16: n/a
Stanford Women’s Rugby
Nat’l Champion: 98, 99, 05, 06, 08
2nd Place: 07
Final 4: 95, 97, 00
Round of 8: 03
Round of 16: 02, 04
Despite the rivalry, Stanford coach Jonathan Griffin and Penn State coach Pete Steinberg have become fast friends, sharing strategies (even when the players sometimes wished they wouldn’t) and plotting world domination. So rather than waiting until the playoffs in 2009 to meet up again, they decided to bring these two teams together to face up against the Canadian U20 international squad in Toronto this June. Key players from Shippensburg (the DII National Champions) and Westchester (one of the few Varsity women’s programs in the country) rounded out the squad.
After a short team bonding session and the first of three practices in Canada, this conglomerate team was united as one into “PennFord WestShip.” Over the course of the trip, these 22 players from the 4 schools spent basically every moment together learning each others’ cultures, trying to play together, and becoming friends. Players were encouraged to bond with those they did not know at dinner (at the Hard Rock Cafe and the Loose Moose in Toronto), spending time in the city touring The Steam Whistle Brewery, and at a Blue Jays game on Thursday night (with the Blue Jays winning 7-1). Some highlights of free time include impromptu karaoke night at Grace O’Malley’s with Angela “Barb” Smarto’s rendition of A Little Help From my Friends with Tim the guitar guy, Katy Black leaving the Blue Jays game with 2 new boyfriends (including Wayne, the elderly beer guy, and second baseman Joe Inglett), and nap time in the Brewery by some of the more exhausted travelers.
After 3 days trying to adapt to each others’ style of play, it was time for a warm up match against a hefty Canadian U-20 side. Every player got an opportunity to bring something to the table in a match that showed off the team’s ability to defend well under pressure. Although on defense for much of the game, the team allowed only 1 try and a penalty kick, leaving the final score of Canada 10, PennFord WestShip 0. The players felt that while the game was a good start, there was still much room for improvement. As this was still primarily a fun, social trip, the plan was to do do a lot of team bonding over the next day to increase team unity and start Sunday’s game with a higher level of play than the end of Friday’s game.
Which brings us to Saturday…
After a recovery practice and stretch, the team was told to meet in the lobby with a change of clothes to go to Niagara Falls for the day. Wondering what could be happening to necessitate a change of clothing, the team headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake where they went on a Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour, courtesy of Team Mom and the rest of the Smit clan. Each member, even those wearing ponchos, was drenched from head to toe after being led through level 5 rapids on a half million dollar jet boat (rapids are rated 1-6, 6 being the highest level and illegal to travel through)! Exhausted from being hit with wall after wall of water the team went to see Niagara Falls (a first time for many of the West Coast Players) and then eat dinner at the Niagara Casino’s buffet (a first for many of the East Coast Players).
Most of the squad at Niagara Falls
After forming stronger bonds with new friends, everyone was very excited about Sunday’s game against the first side of Canadian U20 players. The team played an improved game from Friday providing better quality ball for the scrum half, increasing scoring chances, and connecting better as a team. The team scored its first try together on a pick and go off a ruck from Nora Levinson. Although falling short of earning the W against a much stronger Canadian side than they had faced on Friday, the players were happy with their improvement and the overall level of play. Erin Kobashigawa and Alison Worman were named the players of the match.
Everyone agreed that what the team really needed was a little more time to get into a flow with one another, something that just wasn’t possible in 3 practices and 2 games since having first met. But everyone was ready to have a good time before returning to America, heading off into downtown Toronto that night for one last hurrah. In the morning goodbyes were said, hugs were exchanged, and all were excited and ready for next year.
Team shot after Sunday’s game.
(Writeup in collaboration with Penn State players. See their site.)