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WWU women’s rugby brings home national title

A surprise invitation led to a Club 7's national championship for the Vikings

Brooklyn Murkerson holds up the trophy as the Vikings celebrate their victory over Colorado State in the CRAA Club 7’s Championship at Sabercats Stadium in Houston, Texas, on May 4, 2024. The team won consecutive league titles before winning the national championship. // Photo courtesy of WWU Women’s Rugby

Western Washington University's women’s club rugby team was crowned College Rugby Association of America's Club 7's 2023-2024 national champions on Saturday, May 4. 

The Vikings’ regular season ended with the team winning their league for the second year in a row after beating Stanford University, accounting for Stanford’s only loss of the season. To head coach Kaylie Gladwell’s knowledge, two consecutive league wins had not happened for at least 10 to 15 years. 

After then losing to Stanford in the regional 15s tournament on Sunday, April 21, in Arizona, the season was thought to be over. But, something unexpected happened.

“CRAA really liked the way we played in Arizona, and they had a spot open up, so they invited us like two weeks before the tournament to play at 7s nationals in Houston,” Sydney Copeland, Western’s backs captain, said. 

Copeland has been playing with the USA Falcons, the development team for the USA Eagles, and went to play 7s in Dubai from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, 2023, representing the USA national rugby team. 

Louisa Keating, the Vikings’ forwards captain, took it upon herself to organize the logistics of getting the team to Houston on such short notice. She had a gut feeling the team had to go. 

“For like 24 hours I was just in the sports club office, looking at flights, talking to coaches, figuring out the best way to fly out,” Keating said. “It felt like I was playing Tetris.” 


The Vikings' 7s roster lines up pre-game at Sabercats Stadium in Houston, Texas on May 4, 2024. The team won a national championship after not expecting to make the tournament. // Photo courtesy of WWU Women’s Rugby

7s is a quick game, only seven minute halves, 14 minute games, so players with good conditioning are necessary. For the Vikings, it had been about a year since most of the team had played 7s.

The whole game plan changes in 7s, Gladwell explained. It’s more technical, there’s a lot more pressure and it’s a completely different strategy. 

“There is not really a lot of time to dwell on mistakes or really think about the score at the moment. You just keep going … If you make a mistake you have to flush it immediately,” Sof Trujillo, an inside center back for the Vikings, said.

When the morning of the tournament arrived, the team had no expectations.

“We were really trying to go into this tournament just ready to show up and have fun,” Keating said.

They swept the first day of the tournament, securing their spot in the semi-finals against the Air Force Academy. 

With 15 seconds left on the clock, the Vikings were down one point. Western got the ball to wing Carly Mattson, who proceeded to send the Vikings to the club finals against Colorado State University with a game winning try. 


The 2023-2024 Western Washington University women’s rugby team pose with the 7's club championship trophy.

Top row left to right: Coach Kaylie Gladwell, Aven Webb, Willow Kruta Nichols, Cass Kannin, Lily Airey, Molly Cricchio, Brooklyn Murkerson, Abbi Triou, Gabby Wright, Louisa Keating, Irene Maye, Cora Murphy, Lydia Nelson, Coach Charlie Ronan.

Bottom row left to right: Jenae Potter, Sydney Copeland, Keeahna Clary, Marin Cohan, Saylah Commerton, Vicky Rodenbaugh, Krista Karel, Sofia Trujilo, Melia Diaz, August Akinyi. 

Photo taken at Robert S. Harrington Field on May 6, 2024. // Photo courtesy of WWU Women’s Rugby

The team was sore and worn down. The Houston heat was unforgiving to a team acclimated to Pacific Northwest weather. 

With the finals being played on the same day as the semi-finals, the Vikings decided to switch up their roster to put fresh legs on the field for the first half of the game and bring in impact players in the second half. 

“We’ve worked hard, we have so much talent, this is a legacy year for Western,” Keating said. 

Much like the game against the Air Force Academy, the Vikings won in last-minute fashion. After Colorado State took the lead, Western got the ball to Mattson, who was able to run it in for the game winning try, resulting in a 12-7 victory. 

“The whistle blew and we were like, ‘Oh my God, we just won.’ It was just a crazy moment,” Keating said. “I don’t know how to process it. I still don’t think I really have.”

Most players on the team had never played rugby prior to joining the team. Gladwell said it’s an open invitation to come out to a practice and see what rugby is all about. All skill levels are welcome. 

Practices are held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6-8 p.m. on the Robert S. Harrington Field.

“We owe it to the whole team to have made it there in the first place,” Gladwell said. “We would not have made it if it weren’t for the whole [regional] 15s performance.”

Nathan Barber

Nathan Barber is in his third year at Western and will be majoring in Visual Journalism. He’s an avid kitty cat enthusiast. You can usually find him either on Mount Baker during the weekends, or at the skate park in downtown Bellingham during the week. Reach him at

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