The odds are stacked against the IUP women’s rugby team just about every time they take the pitch.
The Scooters, as they’re known, don’t have a coach. To say they have a minimal budget is an understatement. They have no team bus and a roster dotted with first-time rugby players.
Yet the Scooters — a close-knit group who live by the mantra “15 as 1” — have played their way to the Division II Final Four in California, and they need help getting there.
IUP won a pair of games on April 26 and 27 at the USA Rugby Division II Sweet 16 at Penn State to advance to the Final Four for the first time in the club’s 18-year history.
“We are a self-governed team, and it’s our own determination and dedication that’s gotten us to this point,” said Alyssa Moretti, a 2010 Indiana High graduate and a four-year player.
But as a club team at IUP — rather than a varsity sport — the Scooters receive no funding from the university, leaving them to pay their own travel and lodging expenses to competitions.
They’ve always found ways to get it done, but to send 25 team members to the Final Four across the country, the Scooters need $25,000. The team has set up an account on the fundraising website GoFundMe.com, and as of press time, they’ve received $14,960 from 175 donors in the first eight days. That total will cover the team’s airfare and hotel expenses, but not meal expenses and car rentals.
The Scooters could use an assist from their peers and the community to reach their goal.
“If every student at IUP donated one dollar, we’re almost there,” said junior Amanda Capoferri, the self-appointed head of the fundraising operation. “I’m still not playing because I tore my ACL last spring. They all have to focus on playing in California. My job is getting us to California. We’re getting this outpouring of people coming and donating money to us. It’s so crazy. My teammates and I are so appreciative of what’s going on.”
Although she admits she’s not a “super active member of the community,” Moretti said she’s gotten more feedback from community members in the past week than usual.
“More people are aware of it than before,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard to get where we are. Having our name out in the community and that people are actually talking about it is really nice.”
The Scooters are scheduled to leave for California on Thursday and play Cal-State Northridge in the semifinals Saturday.
Mary Washington (Va.) and Florida International face off in the other semifinal, and the championship game will pit the two winners Sunday. The semifinal losers will play in a consolation game Sunday, guaranteeing each team two games over the weekend.
Following an undefeated 8-0 regular season in the fall, IUP was assured of getting a bid to the Sweet 16 this spring. As the entry deadline approached a few weeks ago, the Scooters had a decision to make.
“We knew we were going to get a bid to nationals in the fall, and this whole season, we weren’t sure what we were going to do about it,” Capoferri said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to go because a lot of our players this season are players who just came to the team. We have a lot of people playing new positions. … We had injuries. Our president of the club, she got an internship and wasn’t able to play, so the people who played in the fall aren’t exactly the people who are playing now. … We didn’t know where it was going to be, and last year, the Sweet 16 was in Michigan. We did that last year, but we didn’t know if we wanted to take this team of new girls as far as Michigan and not know how we’re going to do. Then we found out it was at Penn State and we voted together, Yes, we want to go.”
But that left the Scooters facing a catch-22. By accepting the bid to the Sweet 16, IUP also made a commitment to attend the Final Four if the Scooters got that far. If IUP can’t pay its way to the Final Four, the Scooters face a one-year postseason ban for not honoring their commitment.
As a team without a coach, the Scooters rely on each other to handle the extra-curricular tasks that come with running a team, such as scheduling games and tournaments, arranging travel and lodging plans. It results in a close bond, even if there are occasional disagreements.
“The saying we live by is 15 as 1,” Capoferri said. “We take that on and off the field, not having a coach. We always have to depend on each other.”
The closest thing IUP has to a coach is a pair of captains, one on offense and on defense.
“The captains are basically our standing coaches,” Capoferri said, “but that creates problems because they’re a part of the team, so you’re looking at your captain, who’s also like your coach, but they’re your teammate and friend. They have to make decisions who’s going to play where, and that doesn’t always go over well.”
Former Scooter Kim Kamertz has volunteered her time to serve as the coach for the Final Four, and she’s paying her own way to California from her home area of Philadelphia.
“I think last year at Michigan they kind of looked at us like we had six heads because we didn’t have a coach,” Capoferri said. “To have her come out and be our coach is really, really nice so we have someone. She was our captain last year. … Without a coach, you don’t have someone who’s got that pair of eyes seeing the whole field. You only have that perspective from inside the game. It’ll also make us look a little bit more official in the eyes of USA Rugby to have someone there.”
To donate, visit GoFundMe.com/IUPscooters