BOZEMAN — For the first time since 2017, the Montana State women’s rugby team is just days away from returning to the national stage for this year’s College Rugby Championships in Washington D.C.
The team heads east on Wednesday as one of four programs representing the Rocky Mountain Region but will be the only group competing in the Women’s Premier Cup.
“I've never been to a national championship, so even being as a senior, like, it's going to be an unreal experience," Bobcats senior fly-half Jocelyn Lightfoot elated. "And for our team, it's such a huge accomplishment from where we started.”
From experiencing the highest of highs in 2017 as national champions to the lowest of lows due to Covid, the last six years for Bobcat Rugby have been anything but easy.
“We lost a really good team there that went to nationals previously, so we started to rebuild and then obviously COVID hit and we couldn't really do anything for almost two years," Bobcats head coach Dustin Vernin explained.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2021 that Montana State was finally able to retake the field, but with two seasons passing by, any forward progression had been lost.
In addition, with rugby still growing in popularity across America, many of the new faces that joined that year had no previous experience playing the sport.
“I had never done any contact sports like ever before, so this is my first contact sport in college," Bobcats sophomore forward Jessie Tuggey said. "It's been quite the experience.”
However, with the combination of six seniors this year and consistency that the program hasn’t seen since their 2017 national championship, their success this season has been nothing but expected.
“Last year during our 7s season, we kind of took our league kind of by storm," Tuggey explained. "We didn't know that we were gonna be as good as we were or able to play at this level that we are, so to see forward progress, upward progression, it’s been really incredible.”
However, there is one more challenge the Bobcats are facing before heading to nationals later this week, and that’s funding.
“We get a little bit of a kind of an allocation from the school that we get to use for certain expenses, but the rest is really on our group to go out and fundraise," Vernin explained.
The club expects it will cost about $16,000 total for their trip to Washington D.C. this weekend, and according to their GoFundMe, they’re still about two-thirds away from their goal.
“Hotels, cars, gas — I mean it all adds up and so every bit helps, all is appreciated, and it helps rebuild our team again for the fall so we have something in the tank before we get back to school," Lightfoot added.
Montana State will kick off its first game of the tournament Friday morning against Penn State at 7:44 a.m. MT, which will be broadcasted on The Rugby Network.
For a link to the team's GoFundMe, click here.