Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2011


On the cover: Writer/producer Lee Eisenberg '99 entertainS a packed evans hall in the first of a series of centennial "Conversations with alumni" in January. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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Staking Their Claim

Staking Their Claim
Former Connecticut College teammates Maegan Hoover '08, Rachel Gaines '07 and Jehanne Junguenet '07, left to right, still play rugby together in Boston. Photo by Jon Crispin.

Alumnae ruggers in Beantown still ruck, scrum and maul

By Rachel Harrington

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It may be the last practice of the 2010 season for the Charles River Rugby Football Club, but Jehanne Junguenet '07 sees it as an opportunity.

“Get in low!” she yells as her teammate attempts to strip the ball from her arms.

Once a captain of Connecticut College's rugby team, a popular club sport, Junguenet is still a leader in Boston. And though the team she plays for may have changed, several of her teammates have not. Junguenet, Rachel Gaines '07 and Maegan Hoover '08 have all made the transition from the Camels to Charles River.

Call it the ripple effect. Gaines joined the club in 2007, shortly after moving to Boston. Junguenet chose a job in Boston over Washington, D.C., after Gaines told her about the Charles River club. Hoover signed up the following year, and another Camel, Hayley Bentley '09, also played for a year.

It almost seems like the Charles River team — also called the Rats — was secretly sponsored by the Camels. The alumnae are on the club's executive board, and they usually sport their blue Connecticut College rugby gear at practice.

“We've gotten a bit of a reputation on our team as 'The Camels,' which is said by others with equal parts affection and annoyance at how close we are,” Gaines says.

Friends off and on the field, Gaines, Junguenet and Hoover are forces to be reckoned with during games. Gaines and Junguenet have earned the club's Rat Spirit Award — for outstanding enthusiasm and hard play — and all three have earned “Woman of the Match” honors, awarded to three players each game.

“Once we had two Conn players take that title in the same game,” Gaines says. “Our goal is to have all three.”

Though the trio gives their sport and team their all, they still have plenty of time and energy to devote to their budding careers.

Gaines, an English major who earned her teacher's certificate, teaches eighth-grade English in Malden, Mass. Hoover applies her biology degree to her work as a research technician at Tufts University, while Junguenet, who majored in film studies, is a host and editor at
Cambridge Community Television.

And they have another alumna to thank for making this work-play balance possible: the Charles River club's founder, Kristen Park Hopson '01.

Hopson, a self-described tomboy, discovered rugby at Connecticut College and loved that it was “one of the first sports that didn't change the rules because you're a girl.”

Rugby has been a part of her life ever since. Her husband, Justin Hopson '00, was her rugby coach at the College. She has coached the sport at a high school in Vermont and played for a women's team in Burlington.

When Hopson moved to Boston in 2003, she sought a program for women out of college but had trouble finding anything that wasn't a full-time commitment. Hopson was earning her Ph.D. at the Boston University School of Medicine and needed a flexible schedule.

Hopson's husband had joined the Charles River men's club, and she saw her opportunity, founding the women's division of the Charles River club in 2003. The program had a slow start, and Hopson began to recruit players from local schools. But a team needs 15 players for a game, and sometimes they'd only have five.

“The great thing about rugby, though, is that everyone is really supportive,” Hopson says. “Sometimes the men's team would practice with us, and if we showed up to games without enough players, our opponents would loan us some of theirs just so we could play.”

Her patience paid off, and by the second year, they had 15 women — just enough to play. They officially became a team in 2005, and today the club is more than 35 women deep.
“It has a huge appeal for women who have careers but also want a social life,” says Hopson, now a post-doc at Harvard Medical School.

Yet the women try to keep their head in the game, no matter where they are.

“Rugby teaches you the value of a hard-fought loss,” Junguenet says. “This translates off the field too, and you can learn to take something positive from your defeats.”

Hoover agrees. “Being at Connecticut College and playing rugby taught us that if you give your best effort, it will pay off.”

None of the Camels now on the Charles River team had tried rugby before attending Connecticut College.

Junguenet joined the College's program as a freshman after hearing a friend talk about how “awesome” it was. “Rugby was an instant love for me,” she says. “The team camaraderie instantly made me feel like I had found a second family.”

According to the College's men's and women's rugby coach, Brian Lottridge, Junguenet was a natural, outperforming some of the men's players during scrummaging drills.

“She is a tremendous, versatile player, with a very solid understanding of what is going on with all the positions on the field, not just her own,” he says. “I really enjoyed her as a captain. She is a natural leader, and it truly was like having another coach.”

Hoover also joined in her freshman year, after seeing a flier about the team. “It was a great way to help with the adjustment from high school to college,” she says.

She picked up the sport quickly and, determined, she worked extremely hard during practice. “She's one of those players that just sees the game at a much slower speed and can make adjustments before her opposition,” Lottridge says. He adds that Hoover is by no means a selfish player, saying she was happiest when she could help her teammates score.

Gaines didn't join until her senior year but could have fooled Lottridge, who quickly put her at fly-half, one of the more mentally demanding positions in this physically challenging sport. “I had assumed, given her skill level, that she was a grizzled veteran,” he recalls.

Gaines had played both basketball and soccer — sports that Lottridge believes translate well to rugby — but it was only after she met Junguenet her senior year that she considered playing rugby. “I couldn't have been happier with the team,” Gaines says. “Rugby cultivates a mental toughness and the sense that you'll do anything for your teammates. I really liked that.”

When Gaines started seeking a rugby program to play for after college, it was Lottridge who pointed her toward the Charles River club. Lottridge had previously captained their rivals, Old Gold Rugby, but Old Gold didn't have a women's division.

“Because of the success that Rachel, Jehanne and Maegan are having, I constantly point more recent graduates to the Charles River rugby club,” he says. “I know they'll find a good home there.”

Rugby is well known as a social sport. Rather than simply shake hands after a match, ruggers typically get together for a “drink-up,” where they get to know each other over drinks at a bar and sometimes sing a few traditional rugby songs.

Since the season only lasts from September to October, with practice beginning in February, during the off season players look for ways to stay in touch. This summer, the teammates are planning to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build in Tennessee and perhaps travel to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief.

“When I first moved here, rugby was what helped me get acclimated,” Gaines says. “It can be scary moving to a new city, but Charles River quickly made me feel welcome.”
“It gave me an instant connection to people when I moved here,” Junguenet adds.

Today, Gaines, Junguenet and Hoover are busy trying to recruit more Camels to their team. Coming off their best season in Boston yet — 5-2 — with the team averaging about 50 points a game, it may not be too difficult.

“The program at Conn continues to grow, just as we do,” Gaines says. “We have our eyes on some players in the area from (the Class of) 2010 and are watching '11, too.”

Rugby isn't just a sport to these women, it's a lifestyle — and with their recent success, they'll likely find more Camels who feel the same way.

Connecticut College Magazine

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