Pennsylvania State Champions: Philadelphia girls rugby team makes an impact after winless season

ByJaclyn Lee ABCNews logo
Friday, June 30, 2023
From winless to state champs: Philly girls rugby team makes an impact
Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School Girls Rugby team is making an imapct.

PHILADELPHIA -- A girls rugby team in Philadelphia is making an impact in a short amount of time - from a winless first season to being state champions one year later.

"I love them. They're kind of the most impressive group of girls that I've ever met," Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School Girls Rugby Coach Nick Hunter said.

Last year, Hunter started the girls rugby team.

"I'm a health and PE teacher. So in classes with my kids, I introduced them to the game and when they said they wanted to play, we got a club together," Hunter said.

Even though the team lost every single game in their first season, the girls came back this year, recruiting their friends to join too.

"We came into our first tournament expecting to lose every game and to learn as much as possible," Hunter said.

But they won 10 of their 11 games - making them the Division II state champs!

"If you would have said last year that we were going to win all these games this year, I wouldn't have ever thought that," rugby player Aniya Skinner said.

Skinner, a co-captain, played many different sports growing up - but rugby is now her favorite.

"On a scale of 1 to 10? Like an 11. I love it," Skinner said.

"She's ferocious. Aniya gets the loose ball, makes the pass, sacrifices her body and makes somebody else better. She's a very selfless athlete," Hunter said.

Nationally, there are around 500 girls rugby programs and registrations are up 20% this year.

Rugby is also an emerging sport in higher education with 30 colleges having NCAA-level programs.

"It's necessary that they are able to look at the sport and the culture as it is and see themselves in it. We did an HBCU trip to Howard University this year where they got to meet the Howard women's team, the University of Maine Farmington team," Hunter said.

It's no surprise that Skinner wants to continue playing after graduation next year. She was the only Division II player to be selected for Pennsylvania's All-State team.

"I don't want to stop when I leave high school. I only got one more year left. I want to keep playing," Skinner said.

Rugby is one of the only sports in the world where the rules are exactly the same for boys and girls. It's a full-contact sport - where the players don't wear any padding.

One of the positives for Skinner and her teammates is that the sport is an outlet to release any tensions they're feeling.

Another benefit for the girls? A family.

"It's like a group of sisters. Just like even if we're not bonded by blood, but we're just kind of bonded through this team. We all love each other," Skinner said, adding, "We all take care of each other on and off the field. And it's just it's just like you can go to anybody on a team and just know they're going to be there for you. It's just a family - one big family, you know?"