Women’s rugby on the rise in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Women’s rugby on the rise in Steamboat

Austin Colbert

Members of the Steamboat Springs women's rugby club huddle on Friday at the Ski Town Fields prior to Saturday's Cow Pie Classic. In its fourth year

— These girls aren't timid. They don't mind contact, and they aren't afraid of getting bruised or dirty — all important traits if you want to play for the Steamboat Springs Women's Rugby Football Club.

"People kind of like seeing girls beat up on each other. We actually draw quite a crowd," Steamboat RFC player Molly Cannon said. "Tackling is a lot of fun, though. When you do it right, it's fun."

In only its fourth year of existence, the women's RFC in Steamboat has a lot of catching up to do when compared to the local men's team, founded in 1971. But with a beefed-up roster this summer and the largest women's field coming to town for the 41st annual Cow Pie Classic on Saturday at the Ski Town Fields, the future is beginning to look very bright.

"I think we still have a long way to go, but so far, so good," said Sarah Tiedeken, a current Steamboat RFC player who helped found the women's team four years ago alongside Anne Zoltani. "Since then, we've bolstered the program from us two to about 20 consistent gals. It's gone pretty well."

Unlike the men's side of the sport, which has widespread popularity throughout Colorado, organized women's rugby is few and far between in the central Rockies. The Steamboat men's RFC plays a full summer schedule as part of the Rocky Mountain Rugby League, which includes teams from Vail, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Breckenridge.

However, the women's RFC in Steamboat only has limited options when looking for opponents, with few club teams found in the state. This has led to the club traveling throughout the region, both as a way to find matches and as a way to grow the sport on the women's side and build their own brand.

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"We work a lot with the men's programs to kind of influence them getting a women's side in addition to them, just because it's easy to travel and coordinate games then," said Steamboat RFC player Heather Biewick. "We've been traveling around to a lot of other tournaments and are just kind of trying to let other teams know we exist and that we host a tournament. For us, growing to this point has been a lot of traveling on our side, just networking with teams everywhere, from Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah — we have to branch out pretty far."

And early signs indicate the effort is paying off. When the Cow Pie Classic gets underway Saturday, it will feature six women's teams, the largest women's field the tournament has seen. Along with Steamboat, teams will include Colorado Springs (which has players from Jackson, Wyoming), Mesa-Grand Junction, Boulder and two squads from the Salt Lake City Vipers, one of the region's most well-established women's rugby clubs.

"The tournament is a big marketing effort for us to get our name out and spread the word about women's rugby growing in the Western Slope region," Biewick said. "It's a huge test for our development and skill. It's also big for us to have other teams coming in and visiting. It's more opportunities for games for us."

In addition to garnering outside exposure, the tournament is a chance for Steamboat RFC to see how far it's come. Most of the women didn't join the club with a lot of rugby experience, but many have been with the team for the last three to four years, and they feel it might be time for them to break through and become worthy competition for veteran teams like Salt Lake City.

"We've all been trying to come to practice two times a week and put lots of time and effort into it. So we have very high hopes for this weekend," Cannon said.

"It's really just to get out here and show Steamboat that we do have a women's team … we are definitely very fresh and new. We are really building the women's side. We are always open to new recruits. Everybody is welcome, no matter if you have played sports before or not. We encourage everybody to come out and try it."

So far this summer, Steamboat RFC has played in two tournaments — one in Jackson and another in Missoula, Montana — with around a .500 record to their name. Saturday's tournament is the only home action the women's team will see this season.

Steamboat RFC will play its first game at 9:40 a.m. against Colorado Springs, with a second game against Salt Lake City's "A" squad at 10:30 a.m., both on the north field. Women's rugby action then continues with games at 2:40 p.m. and 5:10 p.m., with the championship game starting at approximately 6 p.m.

"To see their support coming here kind of legitimizes us as an official team here in Steamboat," Tiedeken said of the growing number of women's teams competing in Steamboat's tournament. "It's nice to see a lot of girls in town take it on as a sport they are falling in love with. I think rugby is different from other sports in Steamboat. We represent the town outside of Steamboat, so it's really nice to have a good group of girls to do that."