Getting to the Sweet 16 is a major accomplishment in any sport.
However, women’s rugby head coach Shannon Robinson said he doesn’t doubt that his team will be in contention for the final four.
“We’ve been there before,” Robinson said. “This team plays an enterprising style of rugby … We’re a team that doesn’t drop the ball and we throw accurate passes.”
The UNM club team was founded in 2000 and has experienced success throughout its short-lived eligibility.
Although a different squad from that of 2007, New Mexico has a unit that Robinson said is versatile in all areas of the game.
“Our entire back line made the all-stars for the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference,” he said. “You don’t get to the Sweet 16 without great talent.”
The scarcity of players is not a worry for Robinson, either. He said his team is extremely deep with skill, if not numbers. Robinson said teams usually vary in size from 40 to 50 players. UNM has 25 players on the roster.
“We don’t have that many players,” he said. “I’m not saying that we don’t have depth; we have seven substitutes that would start on any other team.”
The rugby team has faced a lot of tough opponents throughout the tournament, but hasn’t squandered any opportunities to score.
In the Pacific Mountain playoffs, UNM faced division rival Colorado State and won 49-0.
“We have faced great competition this season,” Robinson said. “Colorado State is an excellent team and we shut them out.”
Robinson said the quality of players the team recruits has been phenomenal, gathering players primarily out of New Mexico. He said that although Rugby is not the most popular sport in New Mexico, athletes from different sports tend to fit in with his coaching style.
“We find super quality athletes that have been raised in sports,” he said. “All of the skills that they have learned on their high school teams can be trained so it looks like they have been playing rugby for years.”
The UNM team has not received the funding that an NCAA-affiliated team would because of its club status. In order to afford transportation as well as boarding, the team has had to gather the funding to support itself.
On Apr. 19 the team had a garage sale to raise money for a trip to Atlanta for Sweet 16 play. The team asked for donations in the form of money, furniture or anything that would help them get to the tournament. Although the final amount raised was not given, Robinson said they raised enough to play.
“We are facing huge programs with a lot of money behind them,” Robinson said. “Once you reach a standard for a program in a particular sport, that championship performance can sustain itself without financing.”
Robinson said New Mexico isn’t fazed by the lack of money; the unit is focused on winning.
“These are the women who know how to compete,” Robinson said. “Just win, baby. We are in a bracket we can win.”
UNM will face off against Central Florida on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the Life University Complex in Marietta, Ga.