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Allie Schrenker, of Bristol, Tenn., shown here carrying the ball, has emerged as a star player on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's rugby team. (UTC photo by Billy Weeks)

Allie Schrenker is a smile wrapped in a fist.

Off the rugby pitch, the 21-year-old is a happy-go-lucky young woman, borderline bubbly. On the field, she sets her jaw and plays like a human battering ram.

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Allie Schrenker, of Bristol, Tenn., shown here carrying the ball, has emerged as a star player on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's rugby team. (UTC photo by Billy Weeks)

"I am drawn to the idea of hitting something as hard as I can — and then doing it over, and over, and over again," said Schrenker, of Bristol, Tennessee.

The image may be menacing, but the sentiment is delivered with a mischievous smile.

Schrenker is a forward on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's rugby team. She's a gifted athlete who has aspirations of playing professionally, or perhaps even trying out for the United States Eagles national team.

"Honestly at this point, there is no limit to what [Allie] can achieve with her attitude, capability and drive," said Ben Moore, the 31-year-old coach of the UTC women's rugby team and a former rugby player at Lee University.

Rugby became a women's Olympics sport at Rio in 2016, and it also has its own World Cup championship every four years, like soccer. The college game in still in its infancy, but the UTC women will play a spring schedule sprinkled with teams such as the University of Alabama.

Schrenker's rugby career is largely a result of happenstance.

At her freshman orientation at UTC three years ago, she noticed an information booth staffed by members of the women's rugby team. She said she was attracted to their confident body language and the nonchalant way they were sitting on a table and tossing a ball up in the air. They radiated coolness.

"They seemed to know what they were about," she said. "I didn't even know that women could play rugby. I imagined these big burly men with no teeth and cauliflower ears."

Curious, she attended one rugby practice — and she liked it. Still she was young and impressionable and influenced by a friend who thought rugby would steal a girl's femininity. Instead, Schrenker tried to get involved in flag football, but the guys kept not telling her when the games were, she said.

Oh, well. Their loss.

Schrenker is a natural athlete, an elite swimmer who also played basketball in high school. In a foreshadowing of her physical style of play on the rugby pitch, she was forever fouling out of her high school basketball games.

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Mark Kennedy

The thought of playing a game such as rugby that rewarded aggressiveness and encouraged contact felt rapturous, she said, and she eventually circled back to the UTC team as a freshman. Then, as a sophomore, she began to show flashes of her potential.

More than anything, though, she became a catalyst for her teammates, who fed off her abundant energy. For her part, Schrenker says she gets chill bumps thinking about her teammates and the joy they share on the pitch.

It has taken a while for her rugby IQ to catch up with her athleticism, she said, but she's getting there. She attended a 10-week camp for elite players two years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas. A former Olympics coach there told her that if she lost about 12 pounds and kept all of her muscle mass she'd be "dangerous."

"I liked that word," Schrenker said. "I wanted people to look at me and think I was 'dangerous.'"

Now at 5-9, 175 pounds, Schrenker has a combination of power and speed that leads serious coaches to conclude that she has world-class potential. After graduation at UTC, where she is studying photojournalism, Schrenker said she may move to a city with a team in the National Premiere League, the top level of women's club rugby in the United States. She already plays forward for USA Rugby South, a high-level amateur team that has competed internationally.

Moore said he tries to get Schrenker to keep her game focused — "When she sees a problem she tries to go fix it" — while being uninhibited when it comes to her playing goals.

Then, Allie Schrenker will be doubly dangerous.

And the rugby world had better watch out.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-645-8937.

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