by Jason Graves
Rugby in West Virginia is sparse. Yes, there is the men’s powerhouse Wheeling Jesuit but their Women’s program is just getting started as of Fall Semester 2016 however for the past 17 years women’s rugby has been played an hours drive south in Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the Mountaineers.
Coach Brain Lemme took some time to talk about the challenges and successes of rugby in West Virginia as he talked with Rugby Nation USA.
Rugby Nation USA (RN): What’s your rugby background?
Brain Lemme (BL): I played 1-1/2 years at WVU from 2003 and 2004. After graduation I played 10 years for the Pittsburgh Rugby Club.
RN: Do you have a particular attacking style?
BL: Our current style is fairly basic. We try to move the ball from side to side and avoid getting stuck in the middle of the pitch. This allows us to create space and overloads for the backline.
RN: What is your defensive philosophy?
BL: Currently we play a fairly straight up defense. We have also worked on a bump and slide defense.
RN: Aside from the playoffs, what’s the big success from 2016?
BL: Winning the conference and making playoffs was the goal. Winning the first round of playoffs and going to Midwest regionals.
RN: What are your biggest challenges?
BL: Recruiting, we needs upwards of 30 girls.
RN: How do you go about recruiting players?
BL: The girls hold information tables at the Mountain Lair and rec center throughout the year. We have also made a few flyers in the past to hand out.
RN: I can imagine the challenge; rugby doesn’t seem to have really caught on in West Virginia, what’s the rugby environment like in Morgantown?
BL: Rugby has been up and down in Morgantown over the years. There used to be boys and girls teams for the local high school along with a men’s club team. Lack of numbers to any team is the ultimate downfall, this is very often seen when a HS team is started. Usually, most areas are pulling several local high schools to start U-19 teams to achieve better numbers and sustain a program longer.
RN: Tell me about the Allegheny Rugby Union.
BL: In the 2015-2016 season, the ARU collegiate women created a hybrid D2/NSCRO league of all teams in the area. Historically, all teams in the region played every one and only one team could advance to playoffs. In the new structure, the best D2 team will advance to USA Rugby D2 playoffs and the best small school will advance to NSCRO playoffs. This gives more teams opportunities to compete for nationals and get playoff experience. For more information on how hybrid leagues work check out this Goff on Rugby article http://www.goffrugbyreport.com/news/truth-about-hybrid-leagues
There are a total of 11 teams in the union. Starting in 2015 the ARU split between 3 Division II teams (WVU, IUP, SRU) and 8 NSCRO teams.
RN: Whose the big rival?
BL: It’s hard to have a rival with only 2 other teams in the conference, but we have battled with IUP the most since I started coaching.
RN: Where is home field?
BL: The home pitch is located at Mylan Park, both the men’s and Women’s team play there.
RN: If you could change anything about the college rugby landscape what would it be?
BL: I am not sure, the landscape is always changing and you just have to change with.
RN: What was the playoff experience like?
BL: Playoffs was a lot of fun and the girls learned a lot about what it takes to reach the next level before qualifying for championships.
RN: Was it the WVU Women’s first playoff run?
BL: No, previous teams made playoffs. This was the first time in 10 years the women returned to playoffs
RN: Who are they players you’d like to highlight and why?
BL: I can’t really pick one or a few players to highlight. Rugby is played 15 as 1, they work, win and lose as a team.
RN: Any up and coming assistant coaches we should keep an eye on?
BL: Currently there are no assistant coaches, if you know anyone willing to help out please send them our way.
RN: When people come out to a match what can they expect to see?
BL: A fun, fast paced game with long runs and hard tackles. Hopefully with us on the winning side of a high scoring game.
RN: Do you feel like the US has a rugby identity, as a nation?
BL: I think the US is still looking for an identity with a 15’s team, but have started to showcase and are becoming a powerhouse in 7’s.
RN: Finally Coach, what do you want people to know about the West Virginia Women’s rugby program?
BL: The program is making a strong come back, but we need more women to join the team. This club has true potential and could easily contend for a national title.
Thank you for your time Coach, I truly appreciate it.
If you’re a lady rugby player looking for an education, want to continue your rugby career, or are looking for a sport with physicality then check out the WVU Women’s rugby program.
Feb 28: Ted Hardy- Clayton Bootleggers
Mar 7: Meridian High School, Idaho