West Chester University’s women’s rugby team utilizes walk-on players who join the team with any or no prior rugby experience.
Accepting walk-on players, or just walk-ons, is an essential part of the women’s rugby roster. Many exceptional players started rugby as walk-ons.
Some examples of exceptional walk-ons include senior Anne Kelekolio, senior Erica Arnold and senior Katie Wallenburg. Of the current 41 players, 26 are walk-ons. That is 63% of the team.
“I believe walk-ons are probably the most important players to a team,” freshman Taylor Baldwin said.
Without walk-ons, there would only be 15 players on the team. That is enough for one team for 7s and barely a team for 15s.
Arnold started all six games in the fall 15s season and scored a try. Kelekolio also started all six games. Sophomore and walk-on Brooke Crago started all six games as well and scored two tries.
Graduate student Christelle Alce played six games and scored three tries. Junior Katie LaCosta played in four games as a walk-on. Sophomore Jordyn Melnick started six games and scored one try.
“Our walk-on players are a vital part of our team and have been a huge part of our success over the years,” head coach Tony DeRemer said.
Just looking at the freshman class, there are only three recruited players compared to 11 walk-ons. In every class, walk-ons outnumber the recruited players.
The current WCU Hall of Fame inductee Steph Burkhardt and National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II woman of the year candidate Juah Toe came to the team as walk-ons.
“These are only two examples of the many walk-on players we’ve had over the years who have provided many necessary qualities to make up a successful rugby program,” DeRemer said.
Joining a new sport at the collegiate level can be intimidating for walk-ons.
“It was very intimidating,” Kelekolio said. “I’m so glad I stayed because rugby has completely changed my life in the best way possible.”
Since rugby is a lesser known sport in the United States, walk-ons become very important to teams.
“The fact that walk-ons are coming out and showing interest means that rugby will keep thriving,” Baldwin said. “ They keep the sport alive.”
The current walk-on players have already shown their willingness and ability to learn.
“They’ve already made no much improvement just from this past 15s season in all aspects,” sophomore Sara McNicholas said. “Their overall strength and skills continue to get better everyday.”
Kelekolio understands the difficulties of walking onto the team and not knowing how to play.
“It’s going to suck for a little while in the beginning and it’s not going to be easy,” Kelekolio said, “but you have to be persistent with it.”
After spending the fall learning rugby 15s, this year’s walk-ons will learn rugby 7s this spring.
“I’m excited for them to learn and play 7s because my first 7s season is what really helped me understand and break down the game,” McNicholas said. “I think it will do the same for them.”
“Once you find your rhythm, it all just starts to fall in place,” Kelekolio said.
The rugby team recruits for walk-ons at the start of each fall semester and are open year-round to anyone looking to try the sport.
“We are always ready and willing to welcome new players to our sport,” DeRemer said, “and it makes us happy to see our rugby family grow with our amazing walk-on players.”
Ty Hickey is a media and culture major with a minor in Chinese.