By Noah Johnson
For Unwind magazine
The spring rugby season may have just gotten underway, but for players at the University of Maryland it’s already in full swing.
Despite only being offered as a club sport at this university, both the men’s and women’s rugby teams have drawn a passionate group of student-athletes who are just as devoted to the team as they are to their teammates.
Natalie Lambert, a sophomore English and secondary education major at this university, is the president of the women’s team and has been a member of the club since her freshman year. She saw the organization posted on a list of club sports teams and has not looked back since.
“Everybody was so welcoming, so inclusive,” said Lambert, who has cultivated many friendships through her involvement with the program.
Lambert, whose rugby career began in high school, noted the importance of trust in fellow teammates in order to be triumphant on the field. She said the players always have each other’s backs, both on and off the field.
“We’ve built such a family around the team,” Lambert said.
Matthew Nalls, a junior neurobiology and psychology major, also speaks highly of the program’s team-oriented nature. He said his commitment to his teammates is one of the main reasons he has stuck with the club since his freshman year.
Nalls started playing when he was 10 years old and continued at Gonzaga College High School, proving he had a passion for the game before becoming involved at the university level. However, there is no doubt that forging friendships is one of the aspects of the club that appeals to him most.
“Lots of little things build bonding,” said Nalls, who has also grown close with many of his teammates.
Team bonding is strengthened by both the time players spend together and the intrinsic vehemence of the sport. With three practices per week and games on Saturdays, rugby at the university level requires a substantial time commitment. Many games are played through tournaments and teams can play four to five games in a day, according to Nalls.
Furthermore, an immense amount of focus is necessary to be successful in rugby because cohesion is an integral part of the game, Nalls said. The intensive nature and fast pace demand positive intrasquad relationships.
“You need camaraderie in rugby,” Nalls said. “It’s a huge team sport.”
Rugby is broken into two seasons: the fall fifteen-per-side season, called “15s,” and the spring seven-per-side season, called “7s.” With the 7s season just getting off the ground, both the men’s and women’s teams are preparing for another stretch of games, tournaments and travel that will take them through the end of the semester.
While the fall slate of games is more competitive, Lambert said the sport’s excitement and ferocity does not wane in the spring.
“I love the intensity of the game,” Lambert said. “It’s kind of like your team’s going into battle.”