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Breckenridge Finds Her Fun in a Scrum : Rugby: ‘Addiction’ to an obscure sport lands Crescenta Valley High product on the national team.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tam Breckenridge recalls vividly the moment she came face to face with her athletic future.

It occurred on a playing field at UCLA when Breckenridge was thrown head-first into the middle of what might be the craziest sight in all of sport--a rugby scrum.

A scrum is somewhat like a face-off in hockey or a jump ball in basketball. The major difference is that a scrum involves not two players, but virtually every player from both teams.

Linked arm-over-shoulder with teammates, each “side,” or team, scrambles in a head-on collision for control of the ball.

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“It’s insane,” Breckenridge said. “The first few times I was in a scrum it was, ‘Oh my God, this is terrible.’ But you get used to it. This sport becomes addicting.”

Breckenridge, 32, has developed into one of the top women’s rugby players in the United States. In a few days, she leaves for Cardiff, Wales, where she will compete with the U. S. national team in the first women’s World Cup rugby tournament. France, Wales, England, Canada, Spain and New Zealand will also take part in the tournament, which will run April 6-14.

Breckenridge, who lives in Glendale, was a multi-sport athlete at Crescenta Valley High. She played tennis and basketball, was on the swimming and water polo teams, and also participated in track and volleyball.

Breckenridge, 5-foot-11, played basketball at UCLA for two years before a shoulder injury knocked her off the court. A few years later, rugby began to fill the competitive void.

With her size and jumping ability, Breckenridge is most valuable during rugby line outs, which resemble in-bound plays in basketball.

“Unlike men, women pick up rugby without any bad football habits to break,” Breckenridge said. “Men like the tackling, hard-hitting action and they like to go out and smash each other.

“The women’s game is more technical. There’s a lot of thinking and strategy and more of a flow to the action.”

Which is not to say that the women’s game cannot get rough.

Last weekend, for example, Breckenridge injured her finger at a tournament in San Diego and spent several hours in a hospital emergency room. Last December, she underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.

“People are getting more athletic and bigger,” Breckenridge said. “It’s getting harder for me.

“But nothing makes up for experience. I know the game and can anticipate well, so that makes up for a lot. They’ve got to earn it to knock me out.”

Breckenridge, who works in the athletic department at UCLA, began playing rugby at the behest of colleagues working at a youth sports camp at the school.

“I was wearing shorts and tennis shoes, just standing on the sidelines and not understanding what was going on,” she said of her first match. “All of a sudden, someone got hurt. The coach looked at me and said, ‘You’re in.’ ”

Breckenridge played four years for UCLA’s club team and also played for a club in Santa Monica before joining the Long Beach-based Belmont Shore club.

Last year, Belmont Shore won the women’s nationals in Minnesota. In February, Breckenridge was one of 26 players selected for the World Cup after she helped the Pacific Coast Grizzlies win a national territorial tournament at Tallahassee, Fla.

Breckenridge is confident that the U. S. team will do well in Wales.

Having already traveled across the United States and to Canada and New Zealand on previous competitive tours, Breckenridge is eager for another stamp on her passport.

“The best thing about rugby is the competition and the camaraderie you have, not only with your own team but the other one as well,” she said. “I’ve got friends all over the country now. I can go to different cities, say I’m a rugby player, and I’ll have a place to stay.

“Those are the kinds of things that keep you going.”


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