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Emily Dewey, center, hands the ball off to Spc. Valery Valtrain, right, during rugby practice at Nippon Sports Science University in Aoba-ku, Yokohama City. This was the first official practice for the Phoenix, a Japanese women's rugby team, which has 11 American players participating this season.

Emily Dewey, center, hands the ball off to Spc. Valery Valtrain, right, during rugby practice at Nippon Sports Science University in Aoba-ku, Yokohama City. This was the first official practice for the Phoenix, a Japanese women's rugby team, which has 11 American players participating this season. (Amanda S. Kraus / U.S. Army)

CAMP ZAMA, Japan — It may have been dark, muddy and rainy, but in rugby, that’s just part of the game.

On Aug. 23, members of team Phoenix, a women’s rugby team playing in the Kanto league, met at Nippon Sports Science University in Yokohama City for their first official practice of the season.

In addition to Japanese players, the Phoenix has several Americans playing on the team for the first time.

Before the season started, Capt. Amy Hutter, who is stationed at Camp Zama and was a member of the team last year, told her teammates she was going to try to bring in more women from the military community to play on the squad.

She showed up with 10 new American players.

"My family thinks I’ve finally lost my mind," said a laughing Spc. Valery Valtrain, who was recruited by Hutter after they played softball together.

Spc. Rachael Moore had been at Zama for only about a week when she was approached by Hutter at a newcomer’s briefing.

"It sounded like a lot of fun," she said, explaining that at the time she wasn’t too sure what rugby was, and thought she was signing up to play lacrosse.

In rugby, players use an oblong ball similar to an oversized football and score points by grounding the ball in the opponent’s in-goal area, similar to a touchdown, or by kicking the ball through the opponent’s goal posts. However, unlike American football, players cannot pass the ball forward and can move the ball down the field only by running with the ball or kicking it.

"[The first practice] was interesting," Valtrain said. "I definitely realized how much contact there is in the sport."

"The females here are not afraid to hit you hard," said Spc. Rebekah Queen, a self-described fitness fanatic who also plays football in the fall. "It’s nice to know that they can take a hit and that I can give a hit back."

Licenia Rodriguez, a civilian dependent, said she joined the team after seeing some of the American members practicing at Camp Zama.

"She just walked right up and asked about playing," Hutter said.

Hutter said because the team has such a diverse background and experience level, the new players get the chance to learn about the sport from seasoned veterans, including some who have played on the Japanese national team.

"I’m just really proud of all of them," Hutter said. "They took up a new challenge and totally dedicated themselves to learning about a new sport they know nothing about."


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