Players take a hit, friendships don’t


Freshman Eleni Karabesini carries the ball through an open field tackle

Stephan Toljan, Staff Writer

On the corner of East Avenue and Main Street, by the light of the rapidly setting sun, the UVM women’s club rugby team assembles.

The early evening is brisk and breezy, but head coach Doug Shimel ’87 — “Dougie” to his players — is wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

The team spent Sept. 16-21 preparing for their match against the United States Coast Guard Academy.

They recently beat the University of Maine 51-34 in a game where “the team played well,” Shimel said.

The current men’s rugby coach, Declan Connolly, recruited Shimel in the early 2000s, and worked as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams, Shimel said.

When the position of head coach for the women’s team became available, Schimel took it.

Shimel is confident in his team’s ability to perform, he said.

“We have a very athletic crop of rookies this year,” Shimel said. “If we could win every other game we would make the playoffs, no doubt.”

Practice is filled with stretching, drills and running. However, the players are motivated by their 54-year-old coach running with some of the players on the team, he said.

“It no doubt has a positive impact on the team,” Schimel said. “It’s important to lead by example.”

On the field, the team is also led by their captains, junior Hollie Parks and senior Chris Tagge, and President Christina McLaughlin.

“We have a lot of potential this year,”  McLaughlin said. “The team dynamic is really solid.”

Rugby is carefully regulated in order to avoid serious injuries, Shimel said.

“I knew a guy who played for 30 years, great player, and one match he just took a hit the wrong way,” Shimel said. “Now he’s in a chair. This is a full contact sport, that’s why I place such importance on good body position and safety.”

Between drills, some players puff their inhalers then quickly return to the action.

“Most often, the most aggressive players on the field are the kindest people off of it,” McLaughlin said.

Watching the team during practice, players are constantly laughing as they tell jokes to one another.

“This is very much a team sport,” Parks said. “We hangout outside of practice because the team is your group of friends and even if you have friends outside of the team, they always join eventually.”