2011 may be a breakout year for Women's Cougar Rugby (Brigham Young University), as USA Rugby has shifted the Women's National DI College Championships from a Saturday/Sunday schedule to a Friday/Saturday format. The last couple of years, WCR has petitioned the governing body for the alteration -- a concession made for the team's male counterparts before BYU moved to the CPL -- since the team's Mormon faith prohibits play on Sunday.
Below, BYU was impressive at the LVI. Numina Photo
The issue came to the forefront last year, when Penn State and BYU were scheduled to meet in the national quarterfinals, a match-up many were eager to see play out. But the Provo, Utah, team had to forfeit -- even though PSU offered to double up on Saturday games -- since the game was scheduled for Sunday. Now, with seemingly no road blocks ahead, the Pacific Coast powerhouse is looking to progress deep into the post-season. For coach Tom Waqa, the keys to a successful season are relatively simple.
"Number one priority right now is to keep them healthy," Waqa said at the Las Vegas Invitational last week. "We'll make progress in the league if we maintain consistency. We have good retention from the last couple of years and that's helped the program a lot."
The Cougars squared up against a Chico State team that wasn't at full during the LVI and won convincingly, 51-6. WCR followed the victory with a win against the Midwest College Selects the following day. "Our scrum dominated, which is really encouraging for the girls," Waqa said, considering the packs' size difference. "We'll always be small in the forwards. That's an area of weakness, so we try to find ways to adjust and even out the playing field. The forwards led up front today -- in particular, prop Keilani Paul, who received the game ball -- and that gave us more opportunity in the back line, because we had more space to work with."
Populating WCR's potent backline is a slew of select side players including USA U20 Eagles Star Bollinger and Rebekah Siebach, and All Americans Kristi Jackson (Second Team) and Keelia Harker. Kayla Ellingson is the lone All American (Second Team) in the pack, but the 6'6" lock is the only two-time All American of the bunch. But Waqa's particularly excited about flyhalf Kara Remington, a fifth-year returning from mission. She doesn't have any select side exposure, but the unsung hero has the most experience on the team and leads from the halfback position.
But getting his players higher-level exposure is only a portion of the equation, and Waqa realizes that. He teamed up with Lisa Rosen last year to lead the Women's Collegiate All Americans.
"It was an eye-opening experience for me," Waqa said. "I've only coached at the collegiate level, so to take it up another level with Lisa, I learned a lot as a coach, and how to coach. We've got to find the right approach to coaching in America, because it's different than any other country. I'm from Fiji, and it's different coaching there. I've been learning that at BYU and how the women approach the game."
It's a learning experience for coach and players, and 2011 is the first year that the team, boasting one of its most dangerous lineups to date, can focus on preparing for the later rounds of nationals and not the red tape that previously prevented their participation.