Women's Rugby celebrates 40 years

“The friends I made in that group are still some of my best friends.” — Martha Brown, 1979 team cofounder

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A 1980 women's rugby match with UC Santa Cruz player in black and yellow. Courtesy of Martha Brown.
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UC Santa Cruz Women's Rugby player Zoe Levin (Crown '21) takes the ball during a match in the 2019-2020 season. Courtesy of UC Santa Cruz Women's Rugby.

When it formed in 1979, it was an accomplishment for UC Santa Cruz Women’s Rugby to field a full team. Now, it is one of the campus’ most well-established athletics clubs, with a rich history and traditions. It has often been among the top performing teams and has brought home several national titles.

In 1979, Martha Brown (Kresge ‘81, biology and sociology), Tracy Brann Schilling (Porter ‘76, art), Elinor Tatham (Cowell '85, biology), Becky Thompson (Carson ‘82, sociology), and Becky Teaford Boonman (Merrill '79, Latin American studies) founded the team. Forty years later, these women still maintain many deep friendships created through a shared love for the game that began on UCSC's rugby pitch. 

The team celebrates its 40th anniversary February 15 with current players and alumni, including Brown and other team founders.

“The friends I made in that group are still some of my best friends,” Brown said.
“It’s really exciting to have the opportunity to get back together again.”

For Brown and many other players, the intensive teamwork and physical challenge of the game made it a source of camaraderie during their undergraduate years.

“It was a pivotal moment in our lives, ” she said.

This year’s team, captained by Loren Roudtree (Stevenson ‘20, technology and information management), benefits from an increase in popularity for the game. Roundtree has played since her second year of high school, drawn to the complex strategy and the friendships that grow out of the team.

“You really have to work together,” Roundtree said. “If not it really shows.”

Halfway through the current season, Roundtree has led the team to four wins in five matches.

When Michelle Sit (Oakes ‘08, feminist studies) and her teammates in 2006 began their season, they had no idea how far they would go. That year, they won the Pacfic Western Conference and the Elite 8’s Tournament in Florida. They then finished the season by winning the USA rugby Division II women’s collegiate championship at Stanford’s Steuber Stadium.

The team returned to the nationals again the following year, taking second place.

“Nobody really expected anything,” she said. “We just loved playing rugby.”

Sit was raised as a New Zealand All-Blacks rugby fan. She chose UC Santa Cruz because of the rugby club and joined immediately when she arrived on campus.

“It was good to be part of something,” she said. “Picture 20 empowering, strong minded women. I had no idea how much of my identity would come out of being at UCSC as a leader on a rugby team.”

Sit describes rugby as a “pure” sport.

“After the game, you generally buy a beer for the person you gave a black eye to,” she said.

UC Santa Cruz Women’s Rugby 40th Celebration events:

2/14 evening fundraiser mixer, Woodstock’s Pizza
2/15 daytime men’s and women’s alumni rugby matches followed by a league match between the women’s team vs. Humboldt State
2/15 5 p.m. A celebratory dinner and awards presentation will be hosted at the Stevenson Event Center in the evening, where alumni and current players will hold space to share stories and trace the history of the UCSC Women’s Rugby Football Club.

Both the women’s and men’s rugby teams continually raise funds for gear and travel. Gifts result in lower fees and enable the teams to be more inclusive. Follow this link to make a gift to support the women’s rugby team.