BOSTON, MA — Looking for something to fill the competitive void following her graduation from Williams in June of 2017, Kristi Kirshe found a different sort of pitch.
A two-time All-American — and a national champion — while a member of the women's soccer team at Williams, Kirshe turned to rugby in February of this year. This weekend, she'll be playing with her Boston Women's Rugby teammates in the 2018 7v7 national championships in New York City. The matches will be played at The Baker Athletics Complex at Columbia University.
Kirshe, from Franklin, Mass., played at Williams from 2014 to 2017, graduating and remaining the all-time leading scorer in Williams history in both goals (43) and points (114). She helped lead the Ephs to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Div. III national championship game, with Williams prevailing in 2015, 1-0, over Washington-St. Louis, for its first national championship in program history.
"I started playing rugby because one of my best friends from high school introduced me to the sport and to this team as she played rugby in college with many of them," Kirshe said. "We started with indoor practices this winter and I knew absolutely nothing about the sport or the rules when I first showed up.
But my teammates have been so incredibly helpful and generous in teaching me the ways of the sport. Many of my teammates volunteer as coaches at various high schools and colleges around Boston so I have been able to benefit from their knowledge and understanding of the sport."
While at Williams, Kirshe displayed incredible strength, field vision, and quickness game in and game out. Over four seasons on Cole Field, home of the Ephs, she started 64 games and played in 86, scoring 43 times, the all-time record at the school. Of those 43 tallies, 17 were of the game-winning variety. She added 28 assists and finished her career with 114 points, also an all-time mark.
More importantly, Williams went 74-8-7 (.871 win pct.) over those four falls and captured the aforementioned national championship. She was named an All-American for her production on the field, and a Scholar All-American for her work in the classroom.
So it should be no surprise how quickly she adapted to the game of rugby, both the 15-on-15 version and the 7 v. 7 she'll be playing at this weekend national championships for the Boston Rugby Club.
Obviously, soccer helped her in that transition. But so did other sports she had played in her younger years pre-dating her experience at Williams.
"I would say that my soccer background has definitely been helpful for my transition to playing rugby," Kirshe noted. "It has been helpful in my spacial awareness, because in both sports it is really important to understand where your teammates are and where they will be as well as being able to predict the movement of defenders. I also think that the years of running soccer fitness hasn't hurt.
"But I also think that part of the reason I have been able to pick up rugby in these past six months is because of the skills I have learned from other sports. I think that years of basketball help with my hand eye coordination and I think that my years of playing Pop Warner football prepared me a bit for the contact of the sport. Honestly, I feel very lucky to have been a multi-sport athlete my entire life, I think that it has certainly help me adjust to a new sport."
A forward at Williams who used her field vision and scoring touch to become the all-time leading scorer, Kirshe has taken on a somewhat similar role for Boston Rugby in that, from her wing position, she is often asked to net a "try" for the squad.
For those not familiar with the rugby terminology, a "try" is the act of advancing the ball past the opponent's goal line and grounding it there for a score of five points.
"As a wing, it is my responsibility to create space, carry the ball, and score trys when I can," Kirshe explained. "I still have so much to learn, I feel like every single week I learn a new rule or a new skill but mostly my job is to be a good teammate, make the plays I can, and be coachable and learn as much as I can about the sport from those around me.
"Both rugby and soccer are incredible team sports where scoring is a culmination of effort from every single person on the field. I simply try to use my strengths to help the team in any way that I can."
Kirshe's squad finished 4th at the 2016 national championships, its highest finish ever. She is hoping to help them better that this weekend.
"I think that throughout this summer 7s season, the core of our team has been hard at work," Kirshe noted. "We pride ourselves on working hard and working together and I think that if we do that during nationals and focus on playing Boston rugby we have a great chance of being competitive and successful in this tournament."
Kirshe, a political science major at Williams, now works for the law firm of Ropes & Gray in Boston. As part of the Practice Development group, her group handles all the core business functions for the Litigation practice group.
But Kirshe admits rugby has taken over much of her free time. She not only plays on the Boston Club, but also for Northeast Academy, one of the teams from the National Development Academy for the United States. In June, Kirshe and her NDA teammates played at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California against other NDA teams.
Occasionally, she switches back over to the soccer pitch with some other Williams alums, including Hayley Cook, Sarah Brink, Katie Wardlaw, Chelsea Davies, and Sam Vilaboa and the most recent Div. III National Player of the year, Dani Sim.
But make no mistake about it, rugby has helped fill a competitive void she struggled with since her graduation from Williams.
"For me, this is definitely a competitive endeavor," Kirshe said. "I certainly struggled a bit during my first fall without a sport, and I filled that void by watching all the Williams Women's Soccer games and even traveling to Williams and eventually North Carolina to support the current team. But finding rugby and finding this team has been amazing for me. It has been so much fun to be working towards a common goal and getting to compete on a weekly basis. It has honestly been one of the best things to happen to me since I have left Williams."