Running across the rugby field, University of Miami senior Michelle Horevitz lines up her target and makes a bone-crushing tackle on an opponent as her father proudly watches from the sideline.
Horevitz, president of UM’s women’s rugby team, never imagined she would be playing a high-contact sport like rugby. Still, she has played for four out of the five years that the women’s team has existed.
“After my first game against UCF, I felt amazing,” Horevitz recalled. “Even though we lost, I could not believe I just did that.”
Now, nearly four years have passed since that game. Horevitz has served as the women’s team’s president for the last three years. During that time, the women’s team has steadily improved and the team members are coming off their first winning season. Beth Schlaerth, the women’s rugby coach, has played a key role in the club’s development, keeping them organized and focused.
Horevitz attributes part of her success to the support and advice from her father. They have bonded over the game and talk about it nonstop. He attends most of the games and “he is definitely coach dad,” Horevitz said.
On the men’s rugby team, the players also have many different reasons for playing. For the president of the men’s rugby club, sophomore Nick Davis, it was his brother.
“My brother was my idol,” said Davis, “I played with him on our high school team and we got really close.”
For others it’s a good way to stay in shape and get outside for a study break.
“I played a lot of contact sports in high school and I needed to find an outlet for that energy when I got to college,” senior Tad Debarros said.
Ivy Leaguers in the U.S. have been playing rugby since 1840. At UM, rugby has been played since 1989, and since the inception of the men’s team, it has had one coach, Frank Williams. Prior to his work here at UM, he coached the local Miami Rugby Club.
“I coach and teach the game,” Williams said, “Some of these guys have never seen a rugby ball.”
According to Davis, rugby is a complicated mix of soccer and football with 15 players from a team on the field at once. A rugby ball is white and egg-shaped, like a football but smooth with more rounded ends.
Rugby was created at, and later named for, the Rugby School in England when a man named William Webb Ellis was playing soccer and picked up the ball to score in 1823, according to the official site of USA Rugby.
Like soccer, rugby is a continuous, full-contact sport. Unlike football, however, when a tackle is made, play continues.
“It’s difficult but you can pick it up fairly quickly,” Davis said.