NORTH HAVEN — While most high school practices were canceled or moved inside Monday afternoon, the girls rugby team gritted their teeth and practiced in the pouring rain.
“It's actually the best … you get to tackle in the mud,” co-captain and North Haven High senior Gia Gonsalves said.
The club team practices three days a week, about two hours each. They tackle, run, scrum and say they leave the field more empowered.
Before rugby, Gonsalves was involved in cheerleading. She said rugby gives her an outlet to be “rough” and fosters deep bonding with teammates.
“(For) cheerleading, you have to do your makeup and your hair up, whereas rugby, you're covered in mud and blood,” she said.
She has learned to tackle on the field and to tackle stereotypes about rugby off the field.
“Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I can't tackle someone,” Gonsalves said.
The sport has revealed her strength and given her a sense of accomplishment.
“You're a completely different person once you start playing rugby, it boosts your confidence,” she said.
For girls hesitant to join, Gonsalves and fellow captain Jenna Mahmoud say “it doesn’t hurt to try.”
Most girls on the team said they have had to deal with surprise and doubt about their passion for the sport. Some can’t believe they don’t wear padding or helmets, or that a girls can excel at a sport usually associated with males.
Coaches Meaghan Whalen, Kristin Cataldo and Xanni Brown said they are trying to teach empowerment, leadership, and confidence.
“For me, (rugby) really changed how I look at how strong I am and how I take up space in the world, but it also is just a really fun and supportive environment and that is what we're trying to make here for the next generation,” Brown said.
The team was formed in 2016 by resident Owen Davis and high school special education teacher Richard “RJ” Notaro. Some of the players have gone on to play rugby in college.
Senior and co-captain Gaby Moulis is the last remaining member of the 2016 team. A soccer player, she joined the team as the only freshman thinking it would be fun to try something new.
“It's been a long, long ride, but we started as being just a bunch of girls who just ran around the field as headless chickens to now we're running a cohesive game and scoring tries and working as a team,” Moulis said.
For now, rugby is only available for high school girls — there’s no boys team at the school — but this summer, co-founder Davis will start a co-ed youth camp for students grades four to nine.
The program will be at the North Haven Recreation Center Fields and open to those outside North Haven. Davis said USA National Rugby Team player Alycia Washington is signed up to help run the program.
The team’s next game is May 2, at the athletic complex at 4:30 p.m. They will also celebrate senior night.
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