The women’s rugby football club team opened its league schedule Sept. 20 with a 58-3 loss to Ivy League powerhouse Brown. Preseason rankings predicted a second-place finish for Brown in the Ivy League.

Both Yale and Brown compete in Division I of the Northeast Rugby Football Union. The Ivy League teams compete in a tournament during the spring portion of their schedules.

In Providence this weekend, Yale was short four starters because of injury and illness. Many players shifted to positions they are not used to playing. Despite the lopsided loss, the Bulldogs showed bright signs for future campaigns.

“Our rucking and scrimmaging were much improved from the weekend before,” captain Amy Kohout ’04 said. “Rookies Amanda Webb [’06] and Katherine O’Brien [’07] played very well this weekend.”

Other standout players were fullback Patty Breech ’06, scrumhalf Kate Casselman ’05 and flyhalf Phillippa Thomson ’06.

Despite the loss, the team continued to develop from its opening weekend. Yale began its autumn season on Sept. 13 and Sept. 14 at the annual Beantown Tournament, the largest collegiate women’s rugby tournament in the country.

Because the Boston tournament’s scores do not count for league standings, Yale used its season opener as a warm-up and a testing ground for new team members.

Because Yale went 1-2 at last fall’s Beantown Tournament, the Elis received a low seed this year. Yale was placed in a tough bracket alongside the veteran squad of nationally ranked No. 4 University of California-San Diego. After a hard loss to UCSD, Yale also fell short against Boston College. But Yale showed resilience, finishing the tournament with a draw against Delaware.

“We were extremely pleased with how quickly our rookies caught on, especially with some playing very tough positions,” club president Caitlin Dean ’05 said. “We saw improvement from one game to the next, which is extremely important as we gear up for the season.”

This season will continue the rebuilding process the women’s rugby program has undergone the past two years.

One of the oldest women’s collegiate rugby teams in the nation, the club acquired two new coaches in the past two years. In the winter of 2002, John Broker left his position as assistant coach of the New Haven Rugby Club to become the Yale women’s rugby head coach. The following spring, the Bulldogs gained assistant coach Mary Dixey, a backs coach from Ivy League rival Radcliffe (Harvard’s women’s rugby club team). Dixey works primarily with the Yale backs, allowing Broker to focus on the forwards.

The team improved immensely over the course of last season. After winning only two of eight contests in the fall season, the squad hoped to improve in the spring. After a rocky spring start, the team beat Columbia 12-5 (whom they lost to 34-0 in the fall) and ended the season tying Smith College 5-5 and beating Williams College 19-0.

The enthusiasm seen so far this season from the rookies bodes well for the program’s future.

“The highlight of Beantown for me was hearing one of the rookies exclaim at the end of our last game that rugby was the most fun she had ever had on an athletic field,” Kohout said.

The club is practicing this week for this weekend’s matchup with Boston College, focusing on defensive strategy and decision making. The Bulldogs hope to avenge their narrow loss to BC in the Beantown Tournament.