Pioneers Prevail on the Pitch

After ending last season with barely a winning record, Sacred Heart University’s women’s rugby worked to improve and hone their skills during this past off-season. The Pioneers opened their season at home on Sept. 1, delivering a blowout to the United States Military Academy (Army).

The women crushed Army 31-7, starting off the season 1-0 in National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) play.

Head coach Michelle Reed has been at the helm of SHU women’s Rugby for over eight years, she gave some insight as to what fundamentals the team improved upon during the off-season.

“Passing has improved from year to year and the spring 7’s season is key to that improvement,” said Reed. “It allows our offensive system to work more effectively and provides more options for us.”

Senior captain Makena Wright believes off-season training played an intricate role in the Pioneers’ domination in their first game of the season.

“Rugby is a difficult sport to stay conditioned for if you aren’t playing or in season, because it demands a lot of you both mentally and physically,” said Wright. “My focus during the summer training was working on what we call B.I.G. Which stands for ‘Back In Game.’ Your job is never done, and you need to find work.”

For coach Reed and her team, starting this season with a big win was momentous. First year Marley Gurmendi is among the players to be a part of this win.

“This win for us is huge,” said Gurmendi. “Coming in as a first year and getting to be a part of a team that have continued to prove we deserve to be here is really special. This is the standard we have set for ourselves, and we are going to continue to put in the work to keep raising it.”

“This win showed me what this team is capable of,” said Wright. “You couldn’t ask for a better way to start your senior season.”

In the midst of the landslide victory, junior Alyssa Cunningham emerged with a personally great performance going 3-for-5 in conversion kicks. Cunningham and her fellow Pioneers look to capitalize on this victory.

“We always talk about starting strong, this sets a great platform for the season as well. We need to carry this momentum to the next game,” said Cunningham.

The Pioneers had their second matchup this season on Sept. 9, and again captured a win. The Pioneers beat Brown 22-8.

The Pioneers’ win over Brown proved to be extra special because it was their Heart-to-Heart match, which helps raise awareness for mental health issues and it’s stigmas.

“This program takes mental health seriously. We understand that mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Reed. “We work to take care of both.”

The Pioneers value qualities that go far beyond the surface level, setting them apart from other colligate teams.

“We genuinely care for each other as people,” said Reed. “People first.”

The players praise coach Reed for the values she instills in them as a team.

“She wants individuals who focus on and prioritize the team and who want to build something great for the future,” said Cunningham. “With this group, I feel we’re creating some strong bonds and good chemistry tied with a sense of family away from home.”

The Pioneers have their next matchup at Mount Saint Mary’s on Sept. 16.

Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.

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