Rugby increasing in popularity among girls, young women

Beneath the bright stadium lights, in a space larger than a football field, 14 high school girls run towards each other at full force, carrying, passing or kicking the ball into the end zone to score. That’s if you don’t get tackled by your opponent first, and in the game of rugby, shoulder pads and helmets don’t exist.

“It's played exactly like boys. So there's no rule difference at all,” says Woodlands Youth Rugby Club coach Chelsea Peper.

“We’re taught how to tackle, taught how to properly wrap up and fall, so there’s not many injuries,” says senior Meagan Soileau.

For many of these girls, rugby is a way of life.

Meagan Soileau, 17, is the captain of the girl’s high school team.

Honestly, I think it’s the best sport out there. I love it so much. I couldn’t imagine myself playing a different sport,” Soileau says.

“I really like the contact. I had some choices and they were all things that I couldn’t do very well. So I'm like rugby, yes this is fun, it's like football, but different,” says 6th grader Fiona Morgan.

Since the Woodlands Youth Rugby Club started in 2008, the league has grown significantly, with the high school girls now competing against 18 other teams around the state and fighting for a chance to land a collegiate scholarship.

“Texas has sent 5-7 players off to do full ride scholarships to play rugby in college,” Peper says.

Just like USA Women’s National Rugby star Nicole James did over a decade ago.

Nicole started playing her freshman year at Texas A&M and was one of the first coaches of the Woodlands Youth Team in 2011.

“Just the confidence it gives young girls or ladies at any level is what drives a lot of us to stay in it,” James says.

Nicole says that confidence boost then translates over to other parts of the girls’ lives, preparing them to go out and conquer the world.

“I’ve seen a lot of young ladies grow from not very confident, super shy, to leading teams and leading groups, and going out in the work force and being huge catalysts in their work careers,” James says.