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Kicking Off Women’s Rugby

Emory & Henry College will sponsor women’s rugby as a varsity sport for the 2023-24 academic year season. This move aligns with the increased interest in women’s rugby on the E&H campus and its status as an “emerging sport” with the NCAA.

Posted July 05, 2023

Mary Chura '21 Additionally, Vice President for Athletics Dr. Anne Crutchfield, ’89, announced that Tom “Doc” O’Neill had been named the program’s full-time head coach. O’Neill was a part-time coach for the men’s and women’s rugby programs. He will also continue to lead the men’s club rugby program.

“When I started volunteering here in 2014, I never imagined being hired part-time to coach rugby in Southwest Virginia. To now become a varsity NCAA coach is more than I ever thought would happen,” said O’Neill. “It’s been a vision of mine to see women’s rugby take off. I’m very excited for this new journey in my life and to help make rugby a big program here at Emory & Henry.”

Emory & Henry began playing women’s rugby as a club sport in 2019 as part of the non-NCAA South Atlantic Rugby Conference (SARC) under the National Collegiate Rugby umbrella. The team saw four players selected to represent Emory & Henry as part of a SARC All-Star Team at the National Collegiate Rugby Championships, which won a national championship.

“We are excited to be able to move women’s rugby to a varsity sport,” commented Crutchfield. “Doc is the perfect person to lead us into this new era of competition. His familiarity with Emory & Henry over the past decade and his experience as a player at the collegiate and adult level give him the knowledge base and the contacts in the rugby world that will help us be competitive quickly.”

As an NCAA-emerging sport, women’s rugby is part of a group of sports recognized by the NCAA that is intended to help schools provide more athletics opportunities for women and more sports-sponsorship options for the institutions. Once an emerging sport reaches 40 sponsoring institutions, it gains championship status.

“With the designation of emerging sport, the NCAA has made the growth of women’s rugby a priority,” added Crutchfield. “Emory & Henry strives to be a leader when it comes to providing opportunities for women to compete at a high level, which will position us to do so on a national stage.”

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