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This is new territory for this group of University of Wyoming women's rugby team members.
The team captured the Western Union championship last weekend in St. Charles, Mo., shutting out two opponents to reach the Sweet 16 round, scheduled April 21-22 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
The team's first opponent in the next round of competition will be determined Sunday. The women's Division II -- the level at which the Cowgirls compete -- Final Four and national title game also will be played at Stanford early next month.
"We (this group) have never been this far. It's exciting for this team to go on to the next round," says team captain Ana Rolfs, a Colorado Springs, Colo., a senior majoring in secondary education with an emphasis on chemistry. "This team has come so far since I started playing three and a half years ago. We definitely deserve this."
UW opened tournament action last Saturday with a one-sided 57-0 victory against Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.). Scoring for the Cowgirls were Bostyn Burger, Glendale, Ariz.; Molly Carr, Kara Mitchell and Heather Reiner, all from Cheyenne; team captain Rachel Ryan (Sheridan); and Megan Degenfelder (Casper), another team captain and the team's kicker.
That put the team into Sunday's championship match against league opponent Mesa State College (Grand Junction, Colo.), which beat the University of Nebraska 32-12.
UW took the Western Union championship with its second consecutive shutout, winning 18-0. Ryan scored on two tries and Degenfelder booted additional points to round out the scoring.
"The team has worked so well together all season, and each one of them is willing to learn; they are all very hard workers," says UW Coach Cody Anderson, a UW campus policeman. "What I like about this team is the growth in their ability to take on more tasks without being asked. They have played together as a team and not as individuals."
The team has had to overcome several obstacles this season, including playing just three official regular season Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union games because of several forfeitures from league opponents. UW faced only Mesa State and Colorado College (Colorado Springs) and won those matchups.
The team also had exhibition matches against Division I opponents Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and the United States Air Force Academy, dropping just one of those games against CU.
"These were good for player development and a chance to play upper division teams," Anderson says.
In his three years at the helm, Anderson says this is the best team he's coached in.
"This year has been a complete reformation for Wyoming women's rugby. We have lived to our season motto of ‘no excuses' through the hundreds of practices, meetings and scheduling," says Degenfelder, an economics and political science senior and also Associated Students of UW president. "All that, coupled with the sheer heart each player brings to the field and the pride we have for Wyoming rugby, is what has made us successful."
Hailey Voycheske, a kinesiology and health promotions senior from Cheyenne, adds that the team is not looking past its first Sweet 16 opponent, but says her teammates are a confident group.
"We are not just satisfied reaching the Sweet 16," she says. "We will try to go as far as possible. It has been a great season so far."
As a club sports team, the UW women rely on contributions to get to the next round of competition. The Cowgirls have received support from UW Campus Recreation, which oversees UW's many club sports teams, as well as contributions from the community.
Anderson estimates that the teams needs to raise approximately $20,000 for the Sweet 16 round, which covers travel, meals and hotel costs.
Persons wishing to contribute can call Campus Recreation at (307) 766-4175, or email Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Degenfelder at ASUWPres@uwyo.edu.