Saturday will see the start of a new era of women's rugby in South Carolina begin.
The inaugural season of a Palmetto State rugby matrix will kick off in Charleston Saturday, marking the first organized matrix within the state. The four team competition will run throughout the May 1st, offering regular games and real competition for the Division 2 clubs.
"This is a huge step for women's rugby we now have something to play for as opposed to just putting together a motley (side) or traveling long distances to play Knoxville or Atlanta," said Simone Bontly of the Columbia Bombshells, one of the forces behind creating the matrix."Women's rugby is great because we're all in it for one reason and that's getting more women to play and stick with it!"
As one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, women's rugby has carved itself a niche in South Carolina. In the last two years the Sumter Sirens and Greenville Highlanders seized on the popularity and contributed by starting up their own clubs. The Bombshells have been around since 2007 while the Charleston Hurricanes are the old lady of the matrix having been established in 2001.
Previously, the two older SC teams have trekked great distances for a game and struggled to maintain a regular schedule or played the same opponent over and over.
"Charleston and Columbia have a good rapport because we've played together and against each other for so long now," Bontly said. "It's going to be nice to not play Charleston every other weekend."
Not every other weekend, but they will this weekend. Matrix play begins Saturday at 11 a.m. on Johns Island in Charleston with Columbia visiting the home side. From there, it moves on to the two new sides facing off next weekend (2/13) in Sumter.
Greenville and Sumter are the new girls in the mix.
Greenville were formed in 2009 with the Fall season being their first. The team was born out of similar dissatisfaction that gave birth to the league. Erika Liptai is a 10-year veteran of rugby, but was sick of dragging herself around the Southeast to find odd games. So, the Army veteran decided to get a club established in the Upstate. One note other rookie clubs might write down -- half of the Highlander players found out about the club via Craigslist.com, according to Greenville.
"Even though it is only our second season we feel our team is developing fast and are excited to see how we will compare to the other teams in the matrix," said Highlander Katie Nolan.
Sumter was formed in 2008 and has been strengthening ever since. Aided by a core of women, and the odd dedicated defector from the other midlands SC team, the Sirens have drawn significant numbers of players from the small Pee Dee region. The team quickly became a part of the summer 7s circuit and is building on that.
"Julie Freese (Bombshell Match Secretary) and I started talking about getting a matrix together as soon as Sumter & Greenville formed, especially since we've been attending higher level events such as South Championships and Nationals," Bontly said. "We found it only fair to have a matrix in South Carolina and whomever wins gets to represent at those higher levels."
Supported by Savannah, Sumter and Columbia, Charleston made it to the D2 nationals in 2009. It is that spirit of camaraderie that all involved hope will see the league, and as a result the game, thrive.
"The league, if successful this year and next, will help with recruitment and retention for each club involved so we have a nice base of women to keep it up and hopefully we can present this to USA Rugby South and not have Women's D2 be swept under the rug any longer," Bontly added.