What sport combines the endurance of soccer, the dexterity of basketball and the toughness of football? A local team of athletes known as the Lady Roughriders knows the answer: Rugby. And with that, these champions are ready to take the field for another winning season.
The Bend Lady Roughriders Rugby Club will host the annual Cascade Classic Rugby Tournament at Pine Nursery Park on Saturday, Aug. 27. The tournament kicks off at 10am, with three fields hosting matches between both women and men's teams. The highlight, though, will be seeing what new dynamics the Roughriders bring to the field this year.
"(The team has) been growing and it's exciting," said Lily Scott, who plays center position for the team. "Especially after this last season, we're really pulling things together."
Warming up with the Classic
The last few years were transformational for the Roughriders. When Scott joined in 2012, the team had trouble simply filling their 15-player roster.
"I said, 'Well, I've watched enough rugby, so if they just need a body on the field, I can do that,'" she said. "I was thrown on the field, and I didn't even know what was happening, but it was a complete blast."
Team president Mara Burnell says the team has since refocused and made a handful of changes to become more efficient. And it paid off: Last year, the team went from second-to-last in its league to playoff contenders.
"I think our success last year came from the fact that we really played all together," Burnell said. "It wasn't one or two people that carried the team, everybody helped each other. We played like a family."
The Roughriders ultimately won their league, becoming the 2015 champions and representing the Pacific Northwest Rugby Football Union at the Regional Tournament.
"I think we bumped up to number 10 in the nation with that (league championship) win. That felt great," Burnell said.
Naturally, the team plans to retain its title this season. "We've been really good about recruiting," Scott said. "We have a solid team and a lot of really committed players."
The Cascade Classic serves as the unofficial season opener, but the team's official season starts in September. Now in their 13th year, the Roughriders use the tournament as a fun opportunity to get back into a competitive zone and face teams outside their league. Burnell said she's expecting at least six women's teams, including players from Utah, Wyoming and Montana.
"It's a little bit shorter games, too. Two 30-minute halves instead of the full 40 (minutes)," she added. "We'll probably play two or three games that day. But it's a full competition. Nobody plays light."
The tournament also serves as a great primer for anyone who's never watched a rugby match. While similar to soccer and football, rugby can seem intimidating to people unfamiliar with the rules. Scott joked that even the players can have a tough time.
"It took me two years of being on the field to actually feel like I was comfortable with the rules, like I understood what was happening," she said.
Luckily, spectators new to the sport don't need to be experts; pamphlets explaining the basic rules, player positions and rugby terminology will be available at the tournament. And since it's a tournament in Oregon, there will also be music, food trucks and a beer garden.
"Anyone can play"
The team will follow up the tournament with two home games this season—one against Seattle, Sept. 24, and another versus Eugene, Oct. 15. Additionally, the team is still actively recruiting.
Scott said rugby players are part of a unique community. She likened her Roughrider teammates to a close-knit family, and she's made friends with opposing players thanks to socials—the post-game events that typically involve drinking at bars in silly costumes.
"You're super aggressive and competitive when you're on the field," she said. "But I have friends all over the Northwest now. It's this huge network."
That community isn't exclusive to athletes and professionals, team president Burnell added.
"Rugby can be played by anybody. Any body shape, size, skill level—there's a place for you on the field," she said. The team practices at Riverbend Park Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm Burnell said the practices are open to women interested in playing or learning more about the game.
With rugby being played in this year's Olympics, the sport's popularity is gradually growing in the U.S. Burnell said she hopes the Roughriders' top-dog status gets more people interested in the team's run at a repeat championship this season. And Scott said she's looking forward to another season with her friends and the sport she loves.
"Rugby has done a whole lot for me, not just as an athlete. It built me as a person," she said. "There's nothing like it."
For more information about the Bend Lady Roughriders Rugby Club
Hear an interview that reporter Brian Jennings did last April with the Lady Roughriders below: