Winona State women’s rugby quietly dominating the rest of the field

One of the most dominant college programs in our area is also one that flies under the radar. Winona State women’s rugby is a club program that has now made it to nine straight national final four appearances.

“The majority of the players we have on our team have never played the sport, never even heard of the sport,” junior and club president Diana Tapia said.

The Black Katts rugby team bring in women of all rugby backgrounds and routinely build a championship contender in Division II. They’re so good these days that they’re playing even bigger programs.

“We decided to move up to Division I just because there wasn’t a whole lot of competitions,” Tapia said. “A lot of teams would forfeit because they didn’t want to play us. they didn’t want to drive all the way to Winona to lose.”

So they travel to many D-I schools to play, and because they’re a club, they have to petition the university’s Sports Council for money to keep functioning.

“I have to basically present a proposal on why I need to request a certain amount of funds,” Tapia said.

The team says they’re very fortunate to have the support that they do to continue the winning culture. But winning isn’t at the heart of why they do what they do.

“I feel so empowered, and being around other women who play a rough sport empower me,” Tapia said. “I’ll get bruises and people will ask me, ‘Oh my gosh, are you okay?’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine.’ I love to brag that I play rugby.”

“As a girl I’m always thinking where do I fit in, where do I belong,” freshman Cassidy Daniel said. “And Diana told me there’s a spot for everyone.”

“It teaches you a lot about yourself, and how you can push yourself and push past what you think you can do,” senior Liana Schallock said.

This year is extra special for these women. Their longtime coach Roger Riley is in his last season at the helm, and so this weekend, the Black Katts want to make sure they come back from nationals with a title.

“It’s so many years of commitment. Really it’s volunteer work for them. They’re not getting a lot out of it, but it would mean a lot for sure.”

The Black Katts play their semifinal game on Saturday.

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