Hannah Nekoroski had been an elite soccer player all her life, but after one year on the team at Hamilton College she began looking for a new challenge.
She found it in rugby and quickly caught on to the game, which is not an easy one to pick up. Now the sophomore from Middleton is addicted. Last fall she was named Continentals Rookie of the Year, an honor selected by her teammates, and most valuable newcomer’s MVP by her coach. She had 17 tries in six games for the Continentals, who came in second in the Excelsior League after losing to SUNY Cortland in the playoffs last October.
A rugby try is comparable to a touchdown in football, and an important part of rugby scoring. The ball must be grounded in the opposition’s in-goal area (end zone in football terms).
The club is off to a great start in the abbreviated spring season, which is far less demanding than fall. They posted wins over Amherst and Colgate. Nekoroski is a wing in the back line and still picking up the finer points of the game.
“The atmosphere on the soccer team at Hamilton was not what I expected it to be in a team sport,” said Nekoroski, who starred at Masconomet and also for the New England Aztecs. “I played my freshman year, but I was looking for something else. I knew a couple of people on the rugby team and after checking it out decided to join. It’s such a team oriented group, and we really have a lot of fun.
“I’m one of the wings in the back line. It’s comparable to an outside midfielder in soccer. The biggest difference is getting used to using our hands instead of our feet. That was a big transition for me, especially since I hadn’t played a sport that uses hands since my sophomore year in high school when I was on the basketball team.”
Nekoroski is at the end of the line and has to wait for the ball. Then she uses her speed to sprint up the sideline.
“It’s a lot different for me because I started playing soccer when I was five-years old,” she said. “I did quit for a while because I was into gymnastics, but went back to soccer when I was 10 and played ever since then. I took it very seriously and was always on a club team.”
Nekoroski continued to play all through high school and last summer was a member of the Aztec women’s team.
“I might play for Aztec again this summer,” she said. “I’m not sure, but I do miss soccer. Rugby is a lot of fun though and I’m glad I decided to play. We won all but one game last fall and finished with a 5-1 record. The only team we didn’t beat was Cortland, and wound up losing to them again in the playoffs. It was a big improvement from what rugby teams had done here lately. It’s much more laid back in the spring, but we do go to tournaments on weekends.”
“I was surprised to be able to pick up the sport as quickly as I did. I get nervous before I play, but now it’s nice to know all the rules. Rugby is such a complicated sport it takes a while to learn them. Now that I have played a season it allows me to be more versatile. I don’t have to stop and think what to do next.”
Nekoroski is a double major in government and women’s studies. She has to balance her time between her studies and playing sports.
“We practice every day through the school week and have games on Saturdays,” she said. “Sunday is our day off, but the traveling for rugby is less than it was for soccer so it doesn’t interfere with my academics. I find going out to practice gives me a nice break after being in class all day. I do have to balance my time, but that’s true for anybody playing a sport at this level.”
Jean DePlacido is a longtime correspondent for The Salem News. You can contact her at JMDeplacdo@aol.com.