ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The first time Danielle Lopez, 28, was asked to play rugby was during her sophomore year at Mizzou. Her classmate asked her, “If I punched you in the face, what would you do?”
“I said I’d punch you back,” Lopez says. “And she said that’s good.”
Nine years later Lopez is one of the leaders of the St. Louis Sabres Women’s Rugby Club. She and nearly 30 other women around St. Louis gather two evening per week for practice in Forest Park, or whichever field will keep the lights on for them.
They are forced to practice in the evenings because a majority of their players work typical “9-5” schedules. They are therapists, nurses, social workers, lawyers and counselors, who have found a great stress relief.
The Sabres are members of the Division II level of USA Rugby, and this past spring just finished their most successful season in team history. It was their first ever trip to the elite eight of the D-II National Championship, and they defeated their cross-state rivals, the Kansas City Jazz, to make it there.
“We’re very strong,” Lopez says. “I think a lot of that just comes from chemistry, because we’ve all been playing together long enough but we’ve also been able to recruit some new talent.”
They’ve had luck with former college rugby players who’ve come to St. Louis and are looking to continue playing. They post fliers, stay active on social media and ask the local men’s squads if they know any newcomers who might be interested.
The Sabres head coach, Amy Holtsclaw played rugby for more than 20 years. First, in college at Truman State, then she moved to California and played with the Coast Lobos, before coming back to St. Louis to play with the Sabres.
“We’ve been around for 42 years, so it’s kind of nice when people are finally saying ‘Oh yeah, I knew we had rugby in St. Louis,'” Holtsclaw says.
The Sabres are led by Kate “Bro” Kloster, a soccer and volleyball player turned fly-half, a position most-commonly compared to the “quarterback.” She, like Lopez, was introduced to rugby in college and hasn’t stopped playing since.
“There’s no comparison to the kind of tight-knit community you have on a rugby team,” Kloster says. “Rugby is the closest team sport I’ve ever been a part of.”
She wears her scrapes and bruises proudly when returning work as a financial service administrator. Although she still gets the occasional awkward glance, many of her coworkers know she plays and some have even come to watch the Sabres games in Forest Park.
The Sabres play full-side (15-on-15) rugby in the fall and spring, then play 7’s rugby in the summer. In the Mid-America Rugby Football Union, they often travel to Boulder, Col., Chicago, Nashville, Omaha, Neb., and other cities in the region for matches and tournaments.
On Saturday, October 14, the Sabres play an exhibition match at Lindenwood University, which is one of the top college rugby programs in the country. The Lions won the 2017 7’s National Championship this past May.