An Air Force team will face a Navy team for a national championship Sunday just outside of Charlotte, N.C. It’s in a sport that has flown under the radar, but perhaps not for long.
The Air Force women’s rugby team, winners out of the west, will try to defend its 2018 USA Rugby DI Women's Collegiate Fall National Championship title on Sunday. The team steamrolled through an undefeated regular season and the playoffs, as has become somewhat usual.
Our UNBEATEN Women's Rugby 🏉 team plays @NavyAthletics in the @USARugby Fall Women's D1 Collegiate Championship this Sunday at 9 a.m. in Charlotte, N.C. GO @usairforce ✈️!! BEAT @USNavy ⚓!!!The last time we played Navy, we beat them 52-19, so...BRING IT! pic.twitter.com/52bAujvzdv— U.S. Air Force Academy (@AF_Academy) December 5, 2019
“We take nothing for granted,” Air Force coach Amy Rusert said. “We’re tickled when we get to return to the grand stage. We know there’s a lot of work between August and Dec. 8.”
“I get so nervous before every single game I play,” senior Devin Doyle added. “It never seems normal to get this far in the season and I’m so thankful just from the coaching that we get to lead us here.”
Navy and Air Force were supposed to play each other in a friendly Oct. 5, but the team relied on transportation that didn’t come through.
“Hopefully we’ll both get a crack at each other in December in Charlotte,” Rusert recalled the teams saying to each other.
It went just that way.
Air Force is non-varsity and doesn’t fall under the NCAA umbrella, but rather the Colorado-based national governing body. Rusert said thousands of other intercollegiate programs are “effectively governed by our institutions.” Rugby is on the list of NCAA Emerging Sports for Women and needs at least 40 institutions to sponsor it before the NCAA takes over making it a full championship sport.
“Air Force rugby aspires to be there, but that’s an institutional process,” Rusert said.
Since Rusert came on in the fall of 2015, she said Air Force has been to every fall championship except one.
“It’s a little bit a part of their DNA,” Rusert said.
It’s especially impressive considering most of the women have never played rugby before. Not one of the starters played before Air Force, according to Doyle. They rely on word-of-mouth and fliers to get the word out and add to a tight-knit community.
“Wyoming sent us a video wishing us good luck,” Doyle said. “It’s awesome to be a part of a community that supports each other.”
In addition to occupying multiple leadership roles in the cadet wing, they’ve found time to play more rugby as their schedules allow. The 15s team is playing Sunday, while the 7s will chase a title in the spring.
As Doyle put it, some intrigued spectators “would be nice.”
“The game of rubgy’s so up-and-coming and so fun to watch,” she said.