Point native Wypych set to play in Rugby World Cup
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
Justine Wypych, a Stevens Point native and Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) graduate, will be in Malaysia this weekend to compete in the Rugby Touch World Cup.
Wypych was selected to compete for Team USA in the World Cup, which will take place Sunday, April 28, through Saturday, May 4.
“Everyone’s dream in athletics is to play for a U.S. team,” said Wypych. “So to be able to play in a World Cup is a dream come true.”
After competing in girls soccer and cross country while in high school, the 2010 SPASH graduate decided to go out for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UW-Eau Claire) women’s rugby team while in college.
Wypych went on to become a two-year captain and two-time Most Valuable Player at UW-Eau Claire, while she spent five years on the Wisconsin U-23 Select Team, and competed in Wales as part of the 2013 Midwest Thunderbirds U-23 Selects.
After graduating from UW-Eau Claire in 2014 with a degree in nursing, she was a member of the 2015 Division 2 National Champion Wisconsin Women’s Rugby Football Club, and was selected as the MVP of the National Championship, while she also played on the 2016 D2 Women’s Club National Runner-up team.
“After college there’s only two women’s teams you can play for in Wisconsin, and the first year I played for the Wisconsin Women, they were down in Madison,” said Wypych. “I lived in Neenah, I used to drive two hours to practice with a friend, and we had a really good season, and we ended up going to the National Championship.
“And it was a year that everybody was like, ‘oh, your team’s not going to do well,’” she said. “So it was cool to be able to travel all the way to Denver, and be told game after game, ‘you guys aren’t going to do well,’ and then we ended up winning the whole National Championship.”
She moved to Denver in 2016 to further her rugby career and has played for the Glendale Merlin’s Rugby 15s in the Women’s Premier League, and helped the team finish as the Women’s Premier League National Runners-up three years in a row, and was invited to the USA Rugby Camp in 2016, as a selection for the Top 100 to the 2017 15s Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
“We won a National Championship (in 2015 with Wisconsin), and then we lost a National Championship, and it just kind of sparked the thoughts of, ‘maybe I should move for this for a higher division and see what I can do,’” said Wypych, who is a registered nurse and works at The Medical Center of Aurora, in Aurora, Colorado. “The USA scouts would always be like, ‘you’re too small, you’re not going to be able to play a higher division,’ because there’s three women’s divisions, and we were in the lowest of the three.
“So I said, ‘screw the scouts, let’s try this,’ and I didn’t even want to move up one division, I decided, ‘let’s try to move up two divisions,’” she said. “So when I moved to Glendale, I had no really big expectations, but ended up starting my first game, I got USA Player of the Week that game, and that’s for all of the teams in the whole nation, so that was a cool honor to get.
“And then just thinking that would be where my career kind of ends up retiring, just playing for the Glendale team,” she said. “And then to get that spark in my mind, saying, ‘let’s try touch rugby, there’s a World Cup coming up and they’re looking for players that can learn touch and convert to touch.’”
While playing in a rugby tournament in Portland in the spring of 2017, Wypych was seen by one of the Team USA Touch Rugby coaches and eventually was invited to the USA tryout camp, while she also was invited to play for the Portland Hunters Touch Rugby team at Nationals, and helped the team win Touch Rugby National Championships in 2017 and 2018.
“There’s a few versions of rugby, I started playing 15s Rugby in college, which is tackling, and then there’s a version of the sport called 7s Rugby,” said Wypych. “But touch rugby is a completely different sport, it’s a smaller ball, so it’s a size 4 ball instead of a size 5, and then it’s 6-on-6, rather than 15-on-15, or 7-on-7.
“It’s still a pretty large field, but instead of tackling, like you see in football or regular rugby, a tackle is actually just a touch,” she said. “Your goal is to get a good, two-hand touch, but it can be a tip of the finger on the hair, it can be a tip of the finger on the cleats, and that’s a tackle.”
Following final tryouts, Wypych was selected to compete for Team USA at the World Cup, and spent last weekend at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site in Chula Vista, California, before she left for Malaysia this week.
She said she ended up being one of the only people on the team who converted to touch rugby last minute, and that it’s going to be exciting to see how Team USA matches up once it gets to southeast Asia.
Wypych also said she’s excited that SPASH now has a girls rugby team, and that she’s glad she decided to try the sport in first place, and continued to try moving up every step of the way.
“I can’t even imagine what life would’ve been like if I would have played in high school,” said Wypych. “Further along than starting in college, because that’s another whole four years of learning the rules and knowing what’s going on.
“But it’s kind of crazy to think from, just walking through an events fair and meeting some people, that it ended up taking me to rugby practice, and then a friend after college convinced me to keep playing,” she said. “It’s kind of driven where I live and where I’m going, I got to travel all over, and it’s just been a cool experience in general.”