Tackling Something Different

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Steffany Stephenson advances the ball down the field during a home rugby match. Photo by May Harris and Jamie Johnson.

LARAMIE — Rugby is a growing sport in America. While most people within the United States don’t know much about the foreign sport, Rock Springs native Steffany Stephenson is one of the few to embrace it.

Stephenson played soccer at Rock Springs High School and participated in speech and debate at Western Wyoming Community College. After graduating from WWCC, she made the decision to attend the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo. to further her education. Little did she know, she would soon be wearing a striped, brown and gold jersey as a member of the Wyoming Cowgirls Rugby Club.

Three years ago, Stephenson stepped outside of her comfort zone as she strapped on a pair of cleats and picked up a rugby ball for the first time.

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“One of the girls on the team passed a ball at me, and I caught it,” Stephenson said. “She then asked me to come try a practice. I decided that I would give it a shot.”

The rest has been history. Stephenson has played three years for the Wyoming rugby team and has thrived in her new sport. She plays the flanker position, which simply put, is the first person breaking off the scrum to make the oncoming tackle.

When she tells family and friends that she is a rugby player, most of them find it “pretty awesome.” Her father proudly rejoiced at her decision, while her mother wasn’t too excited due to the risk of injury and violence that rugby brings with it.

“My mom was terrified at first, she didn’t want me to hurt myself,” Stephenson said. “My dad on the other hand was beyond excited. He only had one son and he was not interested in playing sports, so he finally got some Friday night lights.”

While the risks her mother had were legitimate, the only injury Stephenson has encountered was a concussion which sidelined her from playing.

“I got a really bad concussion this past season. I couldn’t drive for two weeks. I couldn’t do more than 60 minutes of homework in a day. I had to go to work wearing sunglasses, which of course I wore aviators so I could make Top Gun jokes,” Stephenson said.

Photo credit: The University of Wyoming Women’s Rugby team and boosters.

Making History

The women’s rugby program started in 1991. Originally, the club was a part of National College Athletic Association Division II competition. In the early 2000s, the rugby team made its way into the elite eight.

During Stephenson’s time with the team, she has seen a bit of history in the making. In 2018, the club switched to NCAA Division I and lost every single game that year. However, in 2019, the script was rewritten and she helped the club make it to the elite eight of the Fall 2019 Men’s and Women’s Championship Series.

Wyoming took sixth place at the tournament — the best finish in the program’s history. The Pokes beat Indiana, who won the Pac-12 conference, Texas A&M, who won the Texas conference and Utah State University, who took first in the Mountain West Conference.

According to Stephenson, Air Force, who won the national title, said in a press release that the Cowgirls were the toughest team they had played all year.

The Wyoming Women’s Rugby team poses for a team picture after defeating Texas A&M 64-7. Photo credit: The University of Wyoming Women’s Rugby team and boosters.

Her Last Ride

As Stephenson wraps up her studies at the University of Wyoming this semester, she plans on graduating with a degree in political science and history, with a minor in interdisciplinary pre-law.

With the spring season approaching at the end of January, Stephenson looks forward to competing in what could be her last semester if she decides not to attend Wyoming’s law school.

“I’m proud of how far the team has come,” Stephenson said. “When I first started we weren’t the best and we were D2 (Division II). Seeing the program move up, loose every game and then go into the next season only to lose to Minnesota and the team that won the national championship is amazing. Also, I’m proud of how far the team has grown as a family. It makes playing that much better.”

“This has taught me that no matter how hard it gets you can always give it 100 percent and it will make you better,” Stephenson said.