Led by interim head coach Peter Lang (no relation to new AIC head ice hockey coach Eric Lang), the American International College women’s rugby program continued its Division I play, and is poised to take the conference—and the nation—by storm in the years ahead.
For Lang, taking the interim position is an opportunity to begin shaping the young program—which along with men’s ice hockey is one of two Division I athletic programs at AIC— to his vision. Given his lifelong involvement with the sport, Lang brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to AIC. He began playing rugby at the age of six while growing up in Africa, and continued to play after moving to England to attend boarding school at the age of eleven. He also played at the University of London before his playing career ended due to injuries.
But as his playing days ended, his coaching career began. Lang comes to AIC from the College of William & Mary, where he was the director of rugby, coaching both the men’s and women’s teams, and has high hopes for the Yellow Jackets’ squad.
“We expect to be challenging for a conference championship next year,” says Lang, “and the year after that, our goal is to be challenging for a national title.”
It’s a formidable ambition. The program, in only its second year of Division I play, is part of the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA), which includes such top national teams as Norwich University, Bowdoin College, Brown University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Quinnipiac University, Sacred Heart University, Army West Point, Central Washington University, Molloy College, Notre Dame College (Ohio), West Chester University, Castleton State College, and the University of New England.
The team notched their first win of the year over Nor- wich University on September 24, with a 44-21 victory, and went head-to-head with some of the country’s best teams over the course of the season, including taking on defending national champion Quinnipiac University.
“The whole thing is an awesome opportunity. I knew I made the right choice coming to AIC when I met the team for the first time,” says Lang, who hopes to continue this season’s momentum going forward. “I realized I can really make an impact here—they needed somebody to nurture this program and make it better over the long haul, and we all hit the ground running with that in mind. From there, we began the foundation for an awesome team culture.”
Due to the late addition of Lang, who did not begin his position until early September, there were more obstacles than usual to overcome, including limited time to recruit players. While he had enough players to field a full team throughout the season, he’s looking forward to adding more depth next year.
“Fortunately, with the work we’ve been doing getting ourselves stronger and better, we’ve been able to not only survive with what we have, but also grow as a team.”
The Yellow Jackets have a core group of talented players, including junior Bridget Kahele, who played on the United States U-23 National Team, but Lang is looking to expand his recruitment beyond the United States and start looking at international talent. His numerous contacts and connections in other parts of the world, including Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, will help this process. He also plans to convert athletes with limited experience into rugby players. Despite the challenges, the AIC women’s team has developed its team culture as a close, supportive family.
“We have some great individual talent here, but no one places themselves above anyone else,” says Lang. “I loved watching our returning players help the walk-ons who came onboard this season—it was never about individual achievement, but rather about making the team be as good as possible. You don’t get that kind of team spirit everywhere. It’s definitely something unique to AIC.”
-By Sarah Kirkpatrick