When Knoxvillians brag about their local championship teams, they usually speak of sports at the University of Tennessee. But one consistently winning team isn’t affiliated with UT, and it has its home base at Sam Duff Memorial Park off of Chapman Highway in South Knoxville.
The Knoxville Women’s Rugby Club, known as the Minx, competes in the True South Rugby Union’s Division II. In recent memory, they were the union champions in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022. They are currently ranked in the nation’s Top 4, and this weekend they will play Berkeley in Atlanta, with the winner of that game going on to play for the championship title against the winner of the Providence vs. Palmer College game.
They won their berth by prevailing against the Tampa Bay Krewe at the inaugural Gulf Coast Super Regionals in Houston, Texas, on May 7.
The KWRC, a 501(C)(3) nonprofit, was created in 2005 by alumni of the UT Women’s Rugby Football Club, but team members come from far beyond that base.
“The sport would be dead if we only took people who know rugby,” said Minx secretary Haley Forman during a break from wrangling Minx activities at last Sunday’s Open Streets event on Sevier Avenue.
Forman said the club is “always” looking for new members, and they find many of them among the ranks of former high school athletes.
“A lot of people played high school sports, and they’re really involved, and it’s their whole life,” said Forman, who went to high school in Mississippi. “And you get out, and maybe you didn’t play college ball, and this is a team that is that (family-like feeling).
“That’s why I found rugby – I played basketball in high school, and I was good but not good enough to play in college.” Forman said rugby offered “that team environment, that team drive. Like, you’re doing it for the group, community, family.
“It’s cool. Rugby’s awesome.”
Team member Jillian Ankutowicz agreed with Forman.
“Like Haley said, everyone is welcome. Rugby is a really inclusive sport, and we’re always interested in teaching about it. Rugby is one of the fastest-growing games in North America, but in order to grow we really need to keep sharing about it, showing people what it’s all about and really encouraging people to try it.”
Ankutowicz, who grew up in a small town in Alberta, Canada, acknowledged that rugby has a reputation as a rough sport but said it’s not a sport to be feared.
“It’s really safe,” she said. “And especially for people who haven’t played before, we take a lot of time teaching them fundamentals, just to make sure that everybody feels really comfortable and feels really safe with tackling and contact, regardless of their experience with it.”
The Minx are active during fall, spring and summer and practice Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Sam Duff field.
“We rent it from the city, and we share it with the guys’ team,” said Forman. “We take half the field; they take half the field.”
Forman said the True South Union also includes Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., with Birmingham in the process of launching a team.