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Injured star inspires rugby women


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Published 2005-04-06T00:00:00Z”/>

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Michael Esser<br>Staff Writer

A flier asking, “Would you like to hit people?” introduced her to rugby when she was 18 years old. She tried out, she liked it and she became really good at it.

Lisa Butts, a senior at Chico State majoring in animal science, is one of the best rugby players in California and a member of the U-23 United States national rugby team.

“The main difference is size and speed because in the national team everyone is super fit,” said Butts, who has played rugby at Chico and with the national team for four years. “They are the best of the best.”

However, Butts enjoys playing for both teams because of the aggressiveness — the component that attracts her most to the sport.

“It is a kill-or-be-killed sport at any level,” Butts said. “But we leave everything on the field because after the games we socialize with the other team.”

Butts, who used to run twice and practice three times a week with the Chico State women’s rugby team, has been on the sidelines with a broken fibula since the second game of the season in January.

“It’s depressing because I am a senior,” Butts said, “and this is not how I wanted to go out.”

Although collegiate rugby might be over for Butts, she will be back in action in June when she joins the Chico Women’s Rugby Club.

“I am graduating in May but I am staying in Chico,” Butts said. “I want to find another job that is related to my major and play for the club.”

While Butts is working on recovering her fitness, Danita Arens, a player on the Chico Women’s Rugby Club, is looking forward to having Butts as a teammate.

“She will be a great contribution, a very valuable asset to our team,” Arens said.

Arens already knows Butts’ strengths because the Chico State rugby team practices with the rugby club.

“If we get higher numbers out, we accomplish more,” Arens said. “Although hard practices suck, they pay off on Saturday, on the field.”

Rugby is a tough sport, Arens said. It as a survival game where players have to discover how to avoid being hit by opponents, he said.

“You better learn to run or to tackle,” she said.

The person who teaches players like Butts and Arens how to run and tackle is Alex Triantafyllou, coach of the Chico State women’s rugby team.

Triantafyllou, who started playing rugby as a sophomore in high school, played for the Chico State men’s rugby team from 1994 to 1997, when he had to retire because of a shoulder injury.

He said he always liked the social aspect and low profile of the sport.

“In rugby we play hard for 80 minutes and then we socialize,” Triantafyllou said. “And rugby doesn’t attract elite athletes. It’s easier to outperform.”

In 1998, Triantafyllou became coach of the women’s team at Chico State and in 2001 he led the team to the national championship.

“Every year, we have talented athletes, a lot of potential,” he said. “To compete at the highest level we just have to slightly improve our skill or fitness level.”

Triantafyllou said Butts’ injury has been a big loss to the team because Butts had been such a solid player during the last three years, but Stacia Hardy has helped pick up the slack nicely.

Triantafyllou said Butts and Hardy are players who bring heart and determination to the team.

“I call them inspirational leaders,” he said. “They lead by example. They have amazing workout rates. They give their best every time they are out there.”

Triantafyllou said the team has a good chance of reaching the national Sweet Sixteen again.

“We have a really good chance to beat Cal this weekend, but I can’t predict the second game,” he said

Chico State’s main opponent will be Stanford, a team that beat Chico State during the regular season.

“We have the potential to beat them but we need to bring our best game,” Triantafyllou said.

Michael Esser can be reached at

<a href= “mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]</a>

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        Injured star inspires rugby women