They might be unknown, but they’re also unrivaled in terms of success.
The UNM women’s club rugby team will embark Friday on its chance to play for a national championship.
The club has been a staple in continued excellence in the eight years it’s been on campus. The team is one of 16 left competing in a Minneapolis tournament Friday and Saturday. UNM matches up against Army, the nation’s third-ranked team.
“These girls are really talented and they have a lot of potential,” associate head coach Jillion Potter said. “They’re a young team, but our appearance in Sweet 16 will set the standard for future people coming in and the progression of the program.”
Potter, a member of the USA women’s rugby team since she was 19, is the backbone of the team. She said the matchup will test UNM.
“It’ll just be a really good experience for them to see,” she said. “It will be a higher level of rugby that they’ll be exposed to, and they’ll see teams that have been there multiple times.”
Head coach Shannon Robinson has been a part of the team since its inception in 2003.
Robinson said he’d be hard-pressed to find a better group of women on campus.
“These are all New Mexico athletes,” he said. “And in women’s rugby, you can improve very fast. In this state, they’re superior in so many sports. All you have to do is teach them to transition in the sport.”
Freshman Desire Smoot started making that transition this year, but she will miss the tournament because of an injury. Smoot tore her MCL in the team’s last regular-season match.
Smoot said she comes from an athletic background, but she couldn’t compare anything to rugby.
“When I grew up, I saw it, but I never really played it,” she said. “I played soccer my whole life, and you can’t really tackle people in soccer. One of my former soccer teammates came here and played rugby, and she said, ‘Dude, you should come here and play this.’ So I tried it out, and the first day of practice, I fell in love with it.”
Impassioned players like Smoot are the reason the club has made four Sweet 16 appearances and one Final Four in eight years.
Potter said the program has developed over the years, and it will be prepared to play Army.
“Army is going to be fierce and they’re going to be fit and mobile,” she said. “They’re really going to hit us hard in terms of their back. They’ve got some threats, in particular with their fullback.”