Rugby is a tough, physical sport that, while not popular in the United States, has a global appeal.

Photo Courtesy of Women's Rugby Team

The women of Mason’s Rugby Club are a combination of girls with previous experience and ones who are complete novices to the sport.

Sherwin “Squirrel” Birashk, head coach of Mason’s Women’s Rugby Club, would have fallen into the latter category.

“I started playing when I was 15. I was actually a baseball player, but I didn’t make the junior varsity squad,” said Birashk, who is affectionately known as Coach Squirrel.

Birashk is a Mason alumnus who played for the Men’s Rugby Club from 1996-99. Back then, a women’s rugby club did not exist at Mason.

While Birashk acknowledges that there is a different gender dynamic between the men’s and women’s teams, he knows that the girls he has coached are just as tough as the guys.

“Back then, it was just starting to pick up a little. We had a couple of girls who just kind of wanted to come play around during our practices,” said Birashk.

It would not be until about 10 years later in 2009 that Mason’s Women’s Rugby Club would officially be formed. Birashk came on as head coach of the team last spring.

A rugby team needs about 15 players to compose a formal roster, but Birashk believes about 25 players are necessary for a given season with how often injuries can occur.

Last season’s team went 6-2 in play and graduated 11 seniors, so this year, Birashk is starting with 15 rookies.

Birashk believes that rugby is fit for anyone, especially those who are currently not participating in a sport at Mason but participated in varsity sports in high school.

“I can teach the sport to anyone in about 3 to 4 weeks, and have them be a starter as long as they are willing to work hard,” said Birashk

Birashk has high expectations for this team, even though it is mostly comprised of rookies.

He wants the team to play a very high tempo style of game.

“My goal is stronger, faster, better. It’s always about raising the bar. If you played for me last year, I expect you to take that next step up higher,” said Birashk.

The women’s rugby club plays in the Matrix conference, which is comprised of teams from universities such as Georgetown and Catholic.

The rugby club has already notched one win this season.

Mason’s rugby club plays six conference games with a playoff in the spring.

The club’s games usually take place on Saturdays at Field 4 at the Recreational Sports Complex.

Birashk does not believe that success can come overnight.

However, he is hoping that when his current team of freshmen is more experienced at the sport, Mason’s women’s rugby will be competing for, and winning, a national championship.