Montclair State University fields 18 Division III varsity athletic teams. But, one of the biggest success stories can be found at the club level. That’s where the women’s rugby team comes in.
The team, nicknamed the Lady Revelers, has experienced a meteoric rise since the team’s inaugural year in 2014. Montclair State captured back-to-back Tri-State Central Division Championships in 2018 and 2019. The Lady Revelers became the first club team at Montclair State to make the move from Division III to the more competitive Division II. For three years, Montclair State carried an undefeated record.
Players come from all different types of athletic backgrounds and experience levels. Many players have never even played in a match, let alone seen one. Head coach Anna Gildea, however, welcomes new players and builds on what they already know to help them learn to play rugby.
“People come from all different sports [with] different skills, [but they] are transferable to rugby,” Gildea said. “We’re able to work that [into our program]. I ask the new players what they played before and try to relate that to rugby.”
Senior scrumhalf Jadyn Hermanns, who also serves on the club’s executive board, used to be a soccer player, gymnast and track athlete before coming to Montclair State. She says rugby had never crossed her mind.
“Personally, I had never heard of rugby before I came to [Montclair State],” Hermanns said. “I joined one of the freshman group chats on Facebook and saw [they were] recruiting through that.”
Junior flanker Ashley Johnson is the captain for the Lady Revelers. Though she had thought about rugby before, it wasn’t until one of the players pushed her to try it that she wanted to start playing.
“I watched a few games of rugby before college, but I never played because I didn’t want to get injured,” Johnson said. “But [then], my Red Hawk Day came up my freshman year, and one of the sophomores came up to me and asked me to play. [She] said I’d really enjoy it. I [then] came out and fell in love with it, and here we are three years later.”
Johnson says the sport can also be therapeutic.
“It’s definitely a stress reliever,” Johnson said. “You take all your anger out on all of your hits. You take out all of your anger on runs. It’s a super physical sport.”
Though Hermanns was attracted to the sport because of the physical nature of the game, she feels passionate about it because of the visible bond between the players, too.
“It’s a sport that requires you to be so close to your teammates,” Hermanns said. “That really made it so much better. It’s the family aspect.”
The relationships between each player off the field translate to how well they play on the field, Hermanns explains.
“Having a relationship [with each other] on and off the field are two different things,” Hermanns said. “[But], we like to combine those because if you like each other off the field it translates onto the field and we play so much better.”
This fall, the Lady Revelers returned to the pitch after the 2020 season was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The team was able to stay in shape through practices and an inner-squad showcase match, but could not compete against other schools, which took a toll on players like Johnson.
“It was rough,” Johnson said. “I missed it a lot, and I missed hanging out with my teammates the most.”
According to Gildea, the 2021 fall season was in jeopardy as well.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to have a season due to [the COVID-19 pandemic],” Gildea said. “There were recruiting difficulties and very little people at practice. We were able to turn that around, [however], and managed to get a full team together.”
After another undefeated regular season, the Lady Revelers lost their first match in three seasons, falling to Fairfield University 29-24 in a hard-fought, mud-filled semi-final contest.
The 2021 fall season might not have ended with another title, but the Lady Revelers had much to celebrate.
The return to play served as a return to normalcy for many players. The team’s sophomores were able to get their first taste of real in-game action.
The local rugby community is known for being competitive on the field and incredibly respectful off of it. After matches, many players can be seen hanging out and cracking jokes with each other. The bond each player has with one another is unlike any other, Johnson believes.
“There’s not a sport like [rugby],” Johnson said. “You’re never going to be able to go on a field and absolutely beat the crap out of someone and remain friends with them off the field, [let alone] hang out with the other team afterward. Every other sport I’ve played, it’s about [competition], [so] the chemistry is not the same. The [rugby] family is everything.”