K-State women’s rugby team joins collegiate league, still facing recruiting challenges

Kaitlyn Lowry, senior in secondary education, Chloe Jex, senior in psychology, and Lauren Chlebanowski, graduate student in chemistry, are all co-captains of the K-State club women's rugby team. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

The rugby team at Kansas State has undergone major changes this year. In the past, rugby at K-State has been a club sport for women, where even some local military women could participate and play. But this year is different, as the team has switched over to playing in a collegiate league.

“Now we’re playing teams that are more evenly matched with us,” Chloe Jex, senior in anthropology and rugby captain, said.

Jex said despite the change in leagues, the rugby team is still having a hard time recruiting players. The team spends a great amount of time training new girls every year who have no prior experience in the sport.

Kaitlyn Lowry, senior in education and rugby captain, said oftentimes, players will be recruited during the activities fair where the coach asks women if they are interested in playing, which is how she got onto the team.

“I asked ‘Do I get to hit people?’ and I showed up to practice and have been addicted ever since,” Lowry said.

Lauren Chlebanowski, senior captain and graduate student in chemistry, has been playing rugby for eight years and said that while playing rugby is extremely taxing on her body, she loves the aggressive side of the sport.

“My favorite part about playing rugby is having an outlet for my pent-up aggression for the day,” Chlebanowski said. “It doesn’t matter how bad your day was, you get to get out there and hit somebody and feel good about yourself.”

Chlebanowski and Jex both said they experience soreness in parts of muscles they didn’t even know could hurt.

“I think the hardest part about being in a rugby game and playing rugby itself has to be the mental and physical challenges that you come into contact with,” Lowry said. “There are days that you come to practice for rugby and your body is so sore that you can’t turn your neck from side to side, or you’re unable to walk.”

Regardless of the work within practice that leaves them bruised up, Chlebanowski said that one of the toughest parts about playing is believing they’re strong enough, especially as women.

“I feel like as women we’re told you’re not strong enough to do a lot of things fairly often, so getting out there, reminding yourself you are tough and you are ready to play is the hardest part,” Chlebanowski said.

Also, despite the physical challenges players have to endure on the field, all three captains said there is a family aspect within the team to grow, not only as players, but also as leaders and women in general.

Lowry said her teammates have shown her how to be a good person and teammate, as well as how to treat other people and control her emotions.

“The support you receive from the girls around you is more than just what you feel on the field but what you feel inside,” Lowry said.

A unique aspect to a rugby team in comparison to other sports is that there are positions for people of all shapes and sizes, Jex said.

“My favorite part about playing rugby is that it’s a sport that can suit anyone,” Jex said. “Anyone who wants to play has a spot on the rugby team.”

There are 15 people on the field at all times during a game and each spot calls for a different body type, according to Jex. The team needs the full spectrum of individuals from those who are big and strong to those who are little and fast.

“If you don’t have stronger girls then you’ll get pushed around and if you don’t have faster girls then you’ll get beat speed-wise,” Jex said. “There’s a wide variety of skill sets that you get to utilize in rugby.”

Jex said that many people who show interest in the team believe they can’t do it because they’re either not in shape or will get killed because they’re too small. Yet in reality, they all could be a great asset to the team.

“The love of the sport never dies,” Chlebanowski said. “I’m probably going to play until I’m 40, probably longer if my body lets me.”