Steamboat women’s rugby team provides a ‘sisterhood’ for players |

Steamboat women’s rugby team provides a ‘sisterhood’ for players

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Tash Carns gazes over Whistler Field during rugby practice.

The New Zealand native wears a knee brace on her right leg, a battle wound from the Teton Tens tournament in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

“It was just kind of a freak deal, just planted my foot wrong, don’t know yet, I find out Monday, sucks, I cried,” Carns said. “As I walked away, they said, ‘Do it for Tash!’”

Tash’s team, the Steamboat Charging Heifers, would go on to win the tournament, defeating four teams from Oregon, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

“This is our first week of what do you call it here? A whitewash? We played hard and won everything.” Carns said.

The Steamboat women’s rugby team started five years ago, when Sarah Tiedeken, a former rugby club player at the University of Oregon, hatched the idea.

Tiedeken put up flyers all over town and even advertised in the newspaper, but only two people came to the first meeting at Sunpie’s Bistro.

“People our age, it’s really hard to find someone that grew up playing,” Tiedeken said. “The men’s team in Steamboat has been around 45 years, so they have this presence. I think we’re starting to gain that presence, but women kind have weird preconceived notions about what it is, and it’s a really big finesse game.”

But Tiedeken said Steamboat is a “go-getter” kind of town, full of people willing to try something new. Steamboat transplants like Carns, Tiedeken and Lizzy Konen all moved looking for a community.

Konen followed her skiing heart from San Diego to Steamboat and now has a job as a preschool teacher during the school year and bartender in the summer and winter.

Konen sits in the bleachers with a long scar down her knee, where she once tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus two years ago at the Cowpie Classic, Steamboat’s annual rugby tournament. She took off last season because she said gaining confidence after an injury is similar to going into rugby for the first time.

“If you don’t go in confident, you get hurt,” Konen said. “When you play your first game, when you get tackled, something turns in you. Then you’re like, ‘Alright, I’m not letting anyone get by me,’ and you hold strong, you don’t want to let your team down and tackling just becomes second nature.”

The Steamboat women were the first female rugby team to express interest in playing in the Teton Tens tournament. Their passion embodies what sports are meant to do: bring people of different backgrounds together.

It’s infectious. They call the Jackson Hole and Steamboat men’s teams their “brothers,” and helped Jackson Hole implement a women’s team.

At practice on Wednesday, 43-year-old Craig native Angela Poe had brought Trinitie Beckner, a high school soccer player from Craig, with her to join the team.

“I thought I was going to be more scared because Angie will tell stories of how there will be these big girls on other teams, but I’m one-eighth of these people’s sizes, and I’m just going to get demolished,” Beckner said. “But it’s going good so far.”

Poe said that’s what’s unique about rugby. If you have the technical aspects of the game down, it doesn’t matter if you’re 5-foot-2 like Beckner. Anyone can hold their own on the pitch.

“You can be tiny, little 80-pound girl, 6-foot, 300-pound girl, 4-foot, 300-pound girl, and there’s a place for you in rugby,” Poe said.

Poe is no stranger to contact sports. She’s a former pro-boxer and MMA fighter and has also played women’s tackle football for the Denver Foxes and Valkyries. Rugby is her favorite sport because of its all-around fitness requirement and technical guidelines.

As someone who’s had her arm snapped in an MMA fight, Poe finds comfort in the fact that there’s more control in rugby tackling. Players are instructed to put their face cheek to their opponent’s butt cheek to protect themselves from neck injuries or concussions. It’s a method even the NFL is turning to with increasing concern over injuries.

This evens out the playing field for people like Poe and Tiedeken, with years of experience, and Carns or Konen, who joined five years ago with very little experience. Anyone can be taken down.

Rugby’s aggressive nature is what’s most intimidating, but Poe said that’s regardless of gender.

“Women, just like guys, need some kind of aggressive release,” Poe said. “Not all women want to play contact sports but not all guys do either, so it’s a matter of giving them an opportunity.”

Carns thinks the contact nature of the sport is what brings people together.

“You play a hard physical game together, it’s not like you’re going to war together, but you kind of do … sport war,” Carns said.

It forms that “bromanship,” or rather, “sisterhood” for women from all walks of life.

And that’s what brings together Carns, a vet technician, Tiedeken, an architect, Konen, a preschool teacher, Beckner, a high school soccer player, and Poe, a power-plant control room operator, in Steamboat.

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