Alumna tries for second World Cup

Christy Ringgenberg captained Team USA in 2009.

Christy Ringgenberg is currently trying out to be a member of Team USA’s 15-woman rugby World Cup team.

Christy Ringgenberg is currently trying out to be a member of Team USA’s 15-woman rugby World Cup team.

Max Sanders

ItâÄôs a sport that has been known to make American football appear as physical as chess. Its fans share a passion rivaled by few in any other field, pitch or rink. To its athletes, pads are virtually non-existent. Its premier event, the World Cup, has been dominated by perennial powerhouses New Zealand and England. The sport is known around the world as rugby, and one University of Minnesota alumna is trying to put the most recent Olympic addition on the map in the United States. Christy Ringgenberg, who is currently trying out to be a member of Team USAâÄôs 15-woman rugby World Cup team, grew up in Madison, Wis. She played various sports in her youth and wanted to play soccer for a Big Ten school. After consulting with the Gophers womenâÄôs soccer coaches, she was invited to try out for a walk-on spot. Like many endeavors in RinggenbergâÄôs life, she saw success, making the team her freshman year as a walk-on. Her stay on the soccer team would prove to be short-lived. Following the conclusion of her first year at the University, where she saw sparse playing time, Ringgenberg quit the team. âÄúI was burnt out; I didnâÄôt love it anymore,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúI was just tired of working that hard and not loving it.âÄù Leaving the team did not quell the competitive desires of the then-sophomore. Ringgenberg decided to join the UniversityâÄôs club rugby team. While she had seen it played before, actually participating in the sport was a challenge. âÄúThat first year [on the club team] I still didnâÄôt know the rules. I had no idea what was going on,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúMy athleticism really carried me through.âÄù Despite not yet knowing the rules, it was clear to Ringgenberg she had found a sport that matched her passion and intensity. âÄúAt least for women, itâÄôs such a brutal sport that you just love spending your energy that way,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúThen when youâÄôre done with it, you ache and you hurt and everybody has a beer together; itâÄôs fun. That shared misery kind of brings everybody together.âÄù By her second year on the team Ringgenberg started experiencing success on the pitch, earning a spot on the U.S. under-23 select-side team. In 2004 Ringgenberg was named to the team for the second straight year. The University club team also experienced success in 2004, winning the Midwest title before falling in the semifinals of the Division II national tournament. The success Ringgenberg experienced so early in her career came as a result of what her coaches call a relentless work ethic. âÄúSheâÄôs just a mentally gifted athlete, and sheâÄôs really driven,âÄù Minnesota Valkyries coach Jane Tierney said. âÄúChristyâÄôs the best team player that IâÄôve ever worked with.âÄù Ringgenberg joined the Minnesota Valkyries after graduating from the University. âÄúWhen I started playing some of the upper level stuff, a lot of my friends on those teams played for the Valkyries, and so that drew me in. I already had friends there,âÄù Ringgenberg said. While soccer and rugby are immensely different in terms of strategy and physicality, the prior experience playing another sport paired with RinggenbergâÄôs athleticism is what Tierney believes helped her thrive. âÄúYou have to have field sense and you have to be competitive,âÄù Tierney said. âÄúYou canâÄôt walk into rugby not having done anything competitive and captain an international team.âÄù Seeking to become the newest Olympic sport, rugbyâÄôs governing body, the International Rugby Board , went to the International Olympic Committee hoping to add the sport for the 2016 games. The IOC initially balked at the idea because it felt the womenâÄôs side of rugby did not represent a high enough level of development to be considered for addition. To prove they belonged, the inaugural WomenâÄôs Rugby Sevens World Cup was held in Dubai in March of 2009 at the same time, location and venue of the MenâÄôs World Cup. The normal level of pressure during international competition âÄî especially for a team like the United States, trying to prove it belongs at that level âÄî is extremely high. When the performance at the World Cup could determine the success or failures of the IRB to get rugby added to the Olympics, the pressure to succeed in Dubai was at a peak. âÄúAll of a sudden we went from a budget of $5,000 a year âĦ to a budget of $500,000 over a six-month period,âÄù Team USA head coach Jules McCoy said. âÄúThe growth of our program in four years was exponential, and so was the pressure and so were the expectations.âÄù There are two different styles of rugby: sevens and 15s . Each refers to the number of players on the pitch. The length and width of the pitch remains the same; 100 meters long and 70 meters wide. What that means for sevens, which the IRB chose to promote to a World Cup event last year, is that you need seven athletes who are willing to go full speed the length of the game. With fewer players, the fast-paced sevens is more popular with fans. âÄúThe sevens style of rugby really puts athletes under tremendous pressure; you canâÄôt hide,âÄù McCoy said. âÄúThe game itself is a challenge mentally because if you make a mistake 60,000 people see it.âÄù After making the team for the inaugural sevens World Cup, Ringgenberg was chosen as captain of McCoyâÄôs squad. Led by Ringgenberg, Team USA advanced out of pool play and won its opening game of the elimination round before falling to eventual runner-up New Zealand 14-12 . âÄú[At a] minimum we were playing in front of 20,000 fans, youâÄôre on TV, it was just amazing,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúYou were on big fields, people are cheering, nobody boos, it was awesome; I canâÄôt even describe it.âÄù Following the strong performance of Team USA, a non-traditional powerhouse, rugby was added in October of 2009 along with golf to the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. This year, Ringgenberg will try out for Team USAâÄôs 15s squad that will compete in the World Cup in England in late August. McCoy likes last yearâÄôs sevens captainâÄôs chances of making the team. âÄúShe thrives under pressure, [and] she brings a lot of international experience to that team,âÄù said McCoy who has since retired as coach of Team USA. âÄúI would be completely surprised if she werenâÄôt on the roster, barring injury.âÄù The success of Team USA helped better its reputation at the international level, but its popularity nationally hasnâÄôt increased at the same rate. Ringgenberg attributes the lack of popularity in the United States to the fact that Americans have many different sports to choose from already and donâÄôt understand the rules and inner-workings of rugby. However, Ringgenberg does see one market of people that do have a strong chance of picking up the sport. âÄúWomen donâÄôt have a sport that is as physical as rugby and is as brutal as rugby,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúIf rugby takes off, I think itâÄôll be the womenâÄôs game that really can take off.âÄù Ringgenberg currently works for Tierney at Edina WISEguys , an after-school community education program. In addition, she has returned to the University to take prerequisite courses for physicianâÄôs assistant school. No matter what the soccer player turned rugby star decides to do, McCoy believes her success on the pitch will translate to her work life. âÄúWhatever Christy chooses to do with her life after rugby, somebody needs to employ her and get her involved,âÄù McCoy said. âÄúShe will not let you down in regards to her abilities to be a good leader and highly effective person.âÄù Like all sports, rugby has an expiration date for its players. While Ringgenberg hasnâÄôt said when that date will be for her, she did hint that it may not be far off. âÄúAt this level, probably not much longer,âÄù Ringgenberg said. âÄúIâÄôll probably take a break after the World Cup.âÄù