Clemson University’s women’s rugby team defeated UMass 29-17 in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, April 29 to claim a national championship in the D-I club division. The win was Clemson’s third in club sports this spring, adding to a pair of national championships won by club volleyball earlier in April.
After compiling a 2-1 record in pool play, the Tiger women defeated Baylor 10-5 in the semifinal round before knocking off UMass to claim the program’s first-ever national title. Grace Mowery, a sophomore majoring in mathematical sciences and criminal justice, was named Most Valuable Player.
Clemson excelled on the biggest stage under the leadership of two new coaches — Kensley Bailey and Kim Henning — both alumnae of the program. In all, 15 players traveled to D.C. to compete in the 7v7 championships.
“Winning the championship was a mixture of euphoria and disbelief at the same time,” said Deirdre Rocha, team captain and president. “It was an incredible feeling. We hoisted the trophy and accepted our gold medals at halftime of the game that followed.”
It wasn’t always pretty. Rocha said the entire round of pool play took place in “frigid” conditions, with temperatures in the 40s featuring high winds and heavy periods of rain. It was so windy, in fact, a video camera was lifted off of the ground and slammed into the side of the team’s 15-passenger van, breaking a window and forcing the coaches to secure another vehicle nearly an hour away.
Rocha, a 2022 All-American, said the team was composed of just two seniors and 22 rookies. Only three women on the team had ever played rugby prior to enrolling at Clemson.
“Despite our relative inexperience, the coaches brought a new energy,” said Rocha, who also plays baritone in Tiger Band. “They’ve been in our shoes and have been great for us. We’ve had better attendance at practices and players are developing at a faster rate.”
Rocha is set to graduate with a degree in civil engineering this week. She’s had a ton of milestones along the way, but said winning a national championship in rugby provided icing on the cake.
“I can’t believe I’m ending my college career with a national championship,” she said. “Clemson has absolutely blown my expectations out of the water; I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience.”
Women’s Division I Collegiate Rugby Championships (April 28-29 – Washington, D.C.)
Pool Play: Cornell (W, 34-0); Pittsburgh (W, 38-0); Boise State (L, 12-19)
Semifinal: Baylor (W, 10-5)
Championship: UMass (W, 29-17)