Sudden stardom for SPASH Rugby’s Villnow

Published: Mar. 28, 2021 at 11:48 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -Ellie Villnow is part of the exclusive club of high school athletes in Central Wisconsin who will take their talents to the next level in college.

However, she’s going in a sport that’s a bit outside the box, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Villnow excelled as a softball player growing up in Amherst, but about three years ago, someone pitched a different sport to her.

“I had one of my coaches from SPASH telling me like ‘Oh, I think you’d be great at rugby,’” Villnow says.

The only problem? Villnow and her family knew so little about the sport that her dad had to buy a “Rugby for Dummies” book.

“Yeah we just got the book when we heard about it, and we were like, ‘Okay, might as well learn about it,” Villnow explains.

It didn’t take long to figure out that she was a natural.

“Pretty quickly Ellie had shown on the field that she really excelled at the sport,” says Carrie Diamond, manager of the SPASH Girl’s Rugby Club.

How quickly? In her first year playing, Ellie was named game MVP at the Wisconsin Girls Rugby League State Tournament, and her love affair with the sport was on.

“Rugby is more of a team sport in my opinion,” Villnow says of what she likes about the sport. “Everyone has a spot on the field, no matter what you are, how tall you are, how short you are.”

As for how crazy she is about the game? There are two seasons for rugby, 15’s (15 players on the field at a time for each team) in the fall, and 7′s (7 players on the field at a time for each team) in the spring.

With SPASH not playing sports this past fall, Ellie was going to miss out on her last season of 15′s in high school. So, she went the extra mile, literally.

“I drove like two hours to a different team and practiced with them like three times a week,” Villnow explains. “And I eventually had like three games.”

That was two hours each way, three times a week, so she could play with a team from Kettle Moraine just outside of Waukesha.


“I felt like it was worth it because I really wanted to get back on the field and just play rugby,” Villnow says. “I like it so much, and I didn’t want to give it up for just one season.”

That type of dedication is why Ellie will play Division-I rugby next year at Lindenwood University in Missouri.

“I think it’s a new setting for me, and I’ve always wanted to travel around and meet new people,” says Villnow on what she’s most excited for in college.

She’s the first player in the four year history of the SPASH Club to commit to play varsity rugby collegiately, and she hopes her success can help grow the game in Central Wisconsin.

“I think for the club and for the whole Wisconsin Girl’s Rugby League, it shows that girls can go as far as they want in this sport,” says Diamond.

“I really hope that this club gets somewhere, and that more girls are learning about the game,” says Villnow. “I think it’s a really great game, so I would love to see more girls in the sport.”

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