Rugby excels on and off pitch


Photo by Carly Fristoe

Lindenwood women’s rugby team lines out against Life University on Nov. 22, 2016, in Hunter Stadium. The game ended in a historic first-time win for the Lions against the Running Eagles.
Photo by Carly Fristoe

The Lindenwood women’s rugby team has been excelling in the classroom and doing its best to serve the community.

On the field, coach Billy Nicholas is building a top-caliber program that includes Olympian Richelle Stephens, Venezuelan national team member Caring De Freitas and All-Americans Natalie Kosko, McKenzie Hawkins and AnnaKaren Pedraza.

Aiding the Lions’ success on the field is its studious habits. Kendall McCracken, Jennese Bacon, Tiana Aumua, Laura Enk and Dana Olsen were named to USA Rugby’s Academic All-American list on Friday. To get on the list, students must get a 3.5 GPA or above and play varsity for Lindenwood.

“It is to be commended when our student athletes use such great time-management skills, hard work and dedication in both their studies and sport,” Nicholas said.

The Lions also are active members of the community. During their weekends, they have been running rugby clinics for beginner players around St. Charles and St. Louis.

“Teaching the kids to play rugby is really enjoyable,” Stephens said. “Their excitement and enthusiasm are contagious. I hope they gained as much as I did from this experience.”

Nicholas was happy to help grow the game in Missouri.

“The love we can spread to others for our sport at the youth level is necessary to grow the game at the national level,” he said.

The Lions are coming off a 10-1 record a semester ago, which included a milestone first win over Life University. Life beat Lindenwood in the final of both the Collegiate Rugby Championship Sevens tournament and USA Rugby’s Sevens National Championship in May 2016. Avenging those losses was a huge success for the Lions.

The only loss from the fall semester came against defending national champions Penn State University.

This semester, the Lions are scheduled to play perennial heavyweights Brigham Young University and the elite women’s club Glendale Raptors.

The real treat of the semester is the Lions’ opportunity to explore a different country. The women have a tour of Ireland from March 12 to March 20.

“We are excited to take our first international trip as a program,” Nicholas said. “We have a great group of people attending that are looking to push their game to the next level, enjoy the teambuilding experience travel creates and get us ready for spring playoffs, which are a few weeks after we return back to the United States.”