WILMINGTON, N.C. –
On a balmy summer’s afternoon in the heart of residential Wilmington, North Carolina, history was made when women of all five U.S. armed service branches faced off in the first Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship on the pitch of the Cape Fear Rugby Football Club July 5.
With a driving rain softening the pitch prior to the start of the tournament, the team’s leads had time to reflect on what had brought them to this historic moment. Air Force Maj. Nicole Jansen, Air Force Sports Women’s Rugby Officer in Charge out of Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, remarked on the enthusiasm she and her team felt to be playing in the championship.
“We’re really excited to be participating in the first ever Armed Forces Sports Women’s Rugby tournament; this is something that people have worked for years for, and a lot of work has gone into this moment,” said Jansen. “This means so much to me, the amount of opportunity these players have is beyond anything that I would have dreamed of as a player. It’s so rewarding to be able to help provide these players that opportunity, and the camaraderie as women athletes being able to come together as one to network and mentor each other really displays that ‘service-before-self’ mentality. It’s is really nice.”
A welcoming spirit as warm as the July day permeated the sidelines as the teams gathered and practiced, indicating all competitive energy would be left on the pitch.
“It’s always great when you can add another women’s sports team to the docket of teams that we host, and I know that these women are just ready to go out there and give it their all,” said Sarah Galon, All-Army Sports service representative. “Of course, I want Army to win, but I’m just happy we’re able to do this; it’s about time that this has come together for the women’s sports team and it’s really awesome to be out to see it.”
The tournament was set up as a single round-robin, with all five services’ teams consisting of the pool; the top two teams will advance to the Elite Women’s Bracket and the bottom three teams will advance to the Club Women’s Bracket of the Cape Fear Sevens Tournament.
No sooner had the storm passed than it was time for the first sevens match, with Air Force Staff Sgt. Katherine Dykes of Peterson AFB, Colo. scoring the first try over Army. Army quickly answered with three straight scores to run away with the match 19 to 5.
Following Army’s win, Navy and Coast Guard came on the pitch in heated match nearly as close. Coast Guard held their own against Navy’s driving offense, scoring one try and a conversion kick before Navy took the match 15 to 7.
The day’s tournament closed out with Army retaking the pitch, this time to face off against the Marine Corps. Ruck after ruck, Army moved the ball down the field despite the Marines’ determined defense, shutting out the Marine Corps 27 to 0 to close the day’s competition.
The spirit of the championship was best summed up by Team Army center/wing Capt. Daniel Deshaies, a chemical officer with the 1st Brigade out of Fort Stewart, Georgia.
“I think a lot of us have really been wanting this for a long time,” said Deshaies following Army’s first win of the day. “I know a lot of people who are injured or couldn’t be here, so I feel really honored and very grateful to be taking part in this championship.”
The event was fifteen years in the making, said Steven Dinote, Armed Forces Sports Secretariat.
“We were really trying to get this program up and running, and for the last few years we did an actual consolidated Armed Forces team, where we were competing at different tournaments,” said Dinote while addressing the team leads prior to the start of the first day’s matches. “And now that the program has grown significantly, we actually have our first real Women’s Championship, so this is really exciting for us.”
Dinote was especially proud of the fact that rugby serves as the first women’s sport in the program’s history that all five services are represented, with the Coast Guard filling its own rosters.
“So not only is this the first Women’s Rugby Championship, this is the first Armed Forces Women’s Championship with all five services, because normally the Coast Guard combines with the Navy. So, like with Men’s Rugby, for a while that was the only Coast Guard independent team, now you have two.”
The 2019 Armed Forces Championship is held in conjunction with the 45th Annual Cape Fear Seven’s Tournament. One the Armed Forces teams complete the round robin and determine the champion, the rest of the teams will enter the overall tournament and compete against other national-level elite women teams.
Follow the action and learn more about Armed Forces Sports at www.armedforcessports.defense.gov.