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FIU Ready for Recognition

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FIU Ready for Recognition

FIU repeats as South regional champion.

Florida International returns to the spring final four for the second consecutive year, but the post-season appearance is more than a benchmark for the DII team. FIU has something to say about women’s rugby in Florida, and it’s letting its victories do the talking.

“We’ve been looked at as a fluke, and that’s been a chip on our shoulder,” Florida International coach Trevor Alfred said. “Everybody’s been doubting us: Who are they? They don’t play rugby down there. We’ve won the conference for the past four years; at All Florida Day, we beat Orlando women; we beat the traveling Gypsy team – but no one knows about that because of all the cancelations in our matrix season. So we took it upon ourselves to show them that we will be here again, and this is something we can do and will do.”

Florida International has had to look inward for inspiration, as the conference season devolved into a series of forfeits and cancelations. The team stayed focused through continuous fitness-building, recruiting, reviewing film, and playing 7s. They supplemented their regimen with Miami men’s team practices, which provided the opportunity to train every day and learn alongside more experienced, stronger players.

“It was a challenge, but we have a nucleus of girls who competed at last year’s nationals, and they’re really organized and motivated,” Alfred said of preparing for nationals. “We allow the players to control the team; it’s not us ruling with an iron first. We give them objectives and timelines, we review strategies, and they implement them.”

Captain Leandria Ates, Eileen De La Rosa, Rayehanna Salkey, and Kerri-Ann Elaise are Alfred’s key liaisons, and they were instrumental in Florida International’s Round of 16 match Saturday. FIU defeated SIRC champ Alabama 27-10, while fellow conference mate South Florida eliminated Carolinas champ South Carolina 32-22 (read more) on the other side of the South regional championship. That set up an all-Florida quarterfinal, which ended in a 27-0 win to FIU. It was a big improvement for South Florida, which had lost the teams’ matrix match by 60 points. Alfred found that fitness played a huge role during the weekend.

“We love it because a lot of team we play don’t take fitness seriously,” Alfred said. “This is something we stress. If you’re fit, then you can play rugby. It’s when you’re not fit that you have a hard time understanding the concepts and what you need to do in the game. We tire our players out and make sure their minds are sharp.”

When Florida International returns to the playoffs, it will play nationals veteran CSU Northridge in the spring final four. Last year, FIU dropped its national semifinal to eventual champion Mary Washington, before falling two points short to IUP in the third place match. But those experiences have resonated with the current squad, and they’re determined to leave Pittsburgh with the respect of their peers, among other things.

“It’s been a blessing. I started doing this by chance six years ago, and we went from winning no games to going undefeated,” Alfred said. “It’s been frustrating because the women’s side [in Florida] gets no recognition, but there is such a large talent pool that is being overlooked as far as rugby players goes. We have three former players at [DI varsity] Life right now – Kim Semiglia, Grace Martinez, and Cynthia Kelly. I want to see the publicity.”