Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

KU women’s rugby club faces varsity team today

In first for program, Jayhawks to play host to Eastern Illinois, which fields one of few scholarship teams in country

September 22, 2001

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Abbey Harper is used to the questions and odd looks when she tells people what she does for fun, partly because of the way she looks and partly because it's not something many women do.

Harper plays rugby.

"I don't look like a rugby player. I'm kind of dainty," the Kansas University senior said. "With my body type people get confused. They think you have to be huge or be a guy to play rugby."

This will be Harper's eighth season there is a fall and spring season in women's rugby as a member of KU's club team, and today they will do something they've never done before: play a varsity team.

The Jayhawks will face Eastern Illinois University at noon at the Westwick Complex, southwest of SuperTarget.

There are only a handful of varsity women's rugby teams in the country, and Eastern Illinois is the only school in the Midwest to have a such a program.

Jim Bartle, who helps organize Kansas' team, said this game is something of a milestone.

"It's very possible because of Title IX that women's rugby will become a varsity sport at many colleges in the future," he said. "A lot of the infrastructure is there for a lot of schools, but very few have varsity programs right now."

Harper said she didn't think Eastern Illinois' varsity team would be that much better than Kansas.

"I don't think it will be too different from other teams we've played," she said. "We have a sister team in Kansas City that we play a lot, and some of the girls on that are really good."

The Jayhawks weren't too bad themselves last year, either.

Kansas finished 19-4 last spring and hosted the Western regional for the "Final Four" of women's rugby. The Jayhawks placed fifth, but only the top two teams from the West went on in the tournament.

During a trip to the United Kingdom last year, Kansas played one team each from England, Scotland and Wales. The Jayhawks beat all of the teams from one of the sport's bastions.

"I think it would be different if a men's team from America went over there," Harper, who is from Neodesha, said. "Women's sports have been growing across the board in most sports at the same time in most countries.

"We didn't know what to expect, what level play the team's over there would have or anything. We went to have a good time and ended up winning all our games."

Kansas is ranked No. 5 in the Western Rugby Football Union, which consists of nine western and midwestern states, by Rugby Magazine.

The game against Eastern Illinois will be Kansas' first this season. No teams showed up at the Wichita Invitational last weekend. Harper said a few girls from other teams were there, but there were not enough of them to field a team to play Kansas.

"We know why none of the other teams came," she said. "But maybe another factor was that we were the defending champions of the tournament and that's why they didn't come."

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