Opinion

Local rugby star gets a shout out

There is an offensive play in rugby called a “try.”

Well, the fledgling Washington State University women’s rugby club will be trying to be the youngest contingent, possibly in the history of collegiate women’s rugby to win a national championship, Saturday and Sunday at Palo Alto, Calif., on the campus of Stanford University.

One of the 25-member WSU women’s rugby crew is 2008 Enumclaw High School graduate Mileka Grager, who in her senior campaign as a Hornet track and field dynamo won the gold in the javelin throw at the Class 3A Washington Interscholastic Activity Association (WIAA) State Track and Field Championships in Pasco, Wash., nearly a year ago with a magnificent toss of 134 feet, 9 inches.

Grager, a freshman, is a starter and plays the number five forward position on the squad (a.k.a. the lock) and says of all the sports she has been involved in rugby is by far the most intense and physical.

“A girl down the hall in my dorm talked me into trying out for the team and I’m glad I did. I’m just in love with this sport,” exuded Grager who also participated in cross country and basketball at EHS.

As to why the Cougar ladies have been so successful this season, Grager conjectured it might be because her cohort’s have come so far so fast.

“The veterans on the team told me the first season the gals on that initial 2005 squad were running around the pitch wearing wife beaters that had their numbers scrawled on the back with a Marks-A-Lots,” exclaimed Grager with a laugh.

“Thanks mostly to donations from generous people, who back our club financially, we now at least have serviceable uniforms,” she said. “But I feel like our success could be attributed to the fact that we work so hard in practice and spend a lot of time with each other, so that we know what each others’ strengths are.

“We have very fast forwards too, but I think it also might be the element of surprise working for us, because the other teams in the final four have these long-standing East Coast rugby traditions in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maine. You know the original 13 states. Heck!! They’ve never heard of Pullman or the Palouse, I guarantee you. Thank goodness we didn’t play any of those teams in the Sweet 16 and they’re going to be so overconfident, that I’m certain that they won’t be looking at any films of us.

“As far as Shippensburg (the first club Wazzu plays this weekend) is concerned, they think they got a lucky roll of the dice drawing us as their first competition. Shippensburgh was staying in the same hotel as we were in Orlando at the nationals and some of the girls were in the hotel swimming pool at the same time as a few of Shippenburg’s players and its coach. They were all saying how they couldn’t wait to kick our butts in the final four and what an easy mark we’d be for them. Overhearing those overconfident conversations was all the incentive or impetus we needed to blow some holes in their arrogant little fantasies,” said Grager. “They won’t even know what hit them,” she said.

Indeed, the still relatively wet-behind-the-ears, four-year-old WSU women’s rugby club is still in its infancy and seemingly reached the final four on the wings of what those posh, private, silver spoon schools of the east must be considering a harmless cream puff asteroid hurling towards them from the outer frontiers of the rugby galaxy.

In reality though the upstart, plucky bunch from WSU has been a crimson and gray juggernaut on the national playoff scene.

The rugby group’s success has been irrefutable, immeasurable and undeniable in that it was undefeated during the regular season. Then it easily captured the Division II Pacific Regionals by flattening the University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs 37-12, and went on to national quarterfinal prominence in Sanford, Florida (Orlando) by virtue of swatting aside the Sacramento State Bees, 29-5.

As the fourth seed at that 16-team national tournament in Orlando, the Wazzu Lady Ruggers again emerged unscathed, annihilating LaSalle University 36-5 and then making mincemeat of the unruly and rude scurvy-dog ruggers of East Carolina University, who had no other recourse but to take the walk of shame down the gangplank following the stunning 26-20 upset at the hands of Wazzu’s fierce ruggers.

The Wazzu monicker in front of the team’s name is, unfortunately, merely a location identifier as far as any postseason activity is concerned. Grager says her teammates have had to conjure up some pretty imaginative methods to scrounge up the wherewithal to bankroll their second season endeavors and excursions as basically the female ruggers have sold themselves into what is tantamount to slavery.

“The university is not funding any of these travel or hotel expenses we’ve been accruing and donation funding is tight in this economy, because we are competing for the donation dollars with other campus club sports that haven’t been nearly as successful as we have.

“Anyway, in addition to the usual fundraising efforts like rummage sales and bake sales, we have been selling what little free time we have with our exclusive ‘Rent-A-Rugger’ program, where we go out and mow people’s yards, pick weeds, trim hedges, etc. Some lady actually hired us to clean out her garage for her the other day. But we ain’t too proud to beg,” admitted Grager, adding maybe that is another reason the team plays so hard. Because it has literally earned the right to be there times two, as it not only has collected the necessary conquests on the playing field, but has also come up with the generous donations necessary to live their dream of being the best women’s rugby team in the United States. The Palouse Parvenus if you will. It begs the question. How many other Washington State University sports teams have ever won a national championship? I’ve got this one – none.

While the phenomenal amount of money the team has managed to drum up has been staggering, now the team is in the final four, representing Washington State University on the national stage, in that bright, bright spotlight, the need for road money is there once more and the team’s popularity on campus and off has reached a fever pitch – if you’ll pardon the pun.

The WSU women’s rugby team has a Web site through which contributors can find out more about the team and an e-mail address by which Cougar alums or anyone else who feels a burning desire to do so, can send or at least pledge money to make this one last promising odyssey possible. The Web site is wsuwomensrugby.wsu.edu, while the all-important e-mail address is wsuwomensrugby@wsu.edu.

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