The Washington State University women’s rugby players returned from their historic March trip to London with some bumps and bruises, but it’s the memories of competing against some of the world’s best club teams, seeing famous landmarks, and building camaraderie that they’ll remember the most.

After months of planning, fundraising, and training, the team—ranked seventh nationally in the most recent Division I poll—became the first WSU sport club in over 30 years to compete internationally.

During spring break, WSU took on the Blackheath Football Club at Rectory Field in Charlton, South London. Founded in 1858, Blackheath is the oldest open (without restricted membership) rugby club in the world. The Cougars played tough in a 21–40 loss.

“Blackheath is a very big and physical team,” says Coach Christy O’Shea. “It was great to see how we matched up against older players who have more experience than us.”

Fatigue from the long trip and the physicality of the game against Blackheath took its toll on the Cougs, but they weren’t about to get soft after all it took for them to get to London. They notched an impressive 40–21 win against a professional team consisting of players from Middlesex University and the Saracens Football Club a couple of days later.

O’Shea says both teams were great hosts, providing meals following the competitions and time for the players from both sides to get to know each other and talk about their games.

“The Blackheath coaches and players told us we were the second most competitive team they’ve played this season and we would be strong competitors in their league,” says O’Shea. Blackheath won their conference championship the week after playing the Cougs.

Senior fullback Mikayla Holmes says it was a big test to play against women who have played rugby most of their lives.

“We loved being surrounded by a culture where the sport we play is known and recognized by so many individuals,” she says. “Representing WSU in London was a great experience!”

The team spent a day sightseeing in London at famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. They also attended the women’s England vs. Scotland game at the Six Nations Tournament, getting a chance to meet many of the players from England afterwards.

One purpose of sport clubs is to foster leadership development, says Matt Shaw ’06 MED, assistant director of University Recreation, and the women’s rugby team, in particular, has demonstrated solid leadership in recent years.

“They have done a remarkable job handling their administrative duties and were ready to take on a larger task,” he says. “This not only challenged them against stiff competition, but also in the planning and decision-making that went into organizing such a big trip.”

The idea for the trip was hatched during an August meeting between O’Shea and team president Monae Hendrickson. They crunched numbers and pitched the idea to the team in September. Through a combination of jobs— including car parking during football games, selling concessions at basketball games, and performing work around the community—team members raised $25,000 to make the trip a reality.

O’Shea says his players will look back 20 years from now and remember what an action-packed, fun-filled trip it was—something very few college players ever get to experience. The impact of this trip will reach far beyond the rugby team itself.

“What these players have achieved is a good example for females in sports, sport clubs, and University Recreation in general,” he says. “It’s phenomenal and I hope it will inspire other sport clubs to think big.”