Noehly Tzintzun tried wrestling in high school, but she fell in love with rugby at Washington State University.
Now the 22-year-old senior from Harrah, Wash., is leading the university’s club rugby team into Division I competition.
“I did not even know what rugby was until my freshman year,” Tzintzun said.
Last year, the Lady Ruggers team won the Division II championship after an undefeated season. This season, they have picked up where they left off, clobbering University of Washington 52-0 and going 3-0 at a tournament last weekend.
The club team, which must raise its own money to compete, has won two Division II championships, and placed third at nationals, Tzintzun said.
For nationals last year, one trip cost roughly $5,000 to send the entire team and they traveled there and back four separate times, Conor Bollinger-Smith, volunteer coach and 2011 WSU grad, said. The team had to take out a loan from the school last season to make it to nationals, he said.
“Hardly anyone knows about it,” said Anne Peterson, the team’s co-captain. “With a team that has been so successful it’s frustrating.”
Peterson, a junior, came from Tanzania to play for the club team. Shewas looking for a school in the United States with a rugby team and after hearing of the successful one at WSU, made her choice to come to Pullman, she said.
Fresh off a national championship, the team is now preparing for the switch from Division II to Division I, meaning a whole new batch of competition including Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State among others.
“We are going to be playing much more experienced teams,” Tzintzun said. In past seasons the team was out scoring their competition by hundreds of points.
“It’s a good feeling, but it gets old,” she said. “We are going to have hard games throughout the season, not just at the end.”
Rugby has grown in popularity in recent years and has been added to the upcoming 2016 Olympics. WSU alum Megan Bonny is currently playing on the USA Women’s Eagles Seven rugby team, Tzintzun said.
WSU’s team has become accustomed to winning in recent years, and expects to continue that streak this year.
“We should win every regular season game,” Bollinger-Smith said. “That is not an extreme goal for us.”