• Cioffi plays big for URI ruggers
    By Bob Fredette
    STAFF WRITER | April 28,2014
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    Rutlander Eliza Cioffi, right, carries the ball in a match playing for the University of Rhode Island. CIoffi and the Rams won a Division I and a DIvision II “Beast of the East” title during her four seasons.
    Size isn’t everything, unless you count the heart.

    Eliza Cioffi is a good case in point. Told she was too small to play sports like basketball and soccer at Rutland High School, Cioffi took up rugby in her senior year.

    Rugby? Cioffi is 5 feet tall and 110 pounds.

    Yes, rugby. And she was impressive enough to be elected captain at the University of Rhode Island, which won two “Beast of the East” tournament titles in Cioffi’s four seasons there.

    Cioffi’s statement that she would go out for rugby was at first a joke. But she did it anyway and liked it. So, no more Raiders soccer for her.

    “After I understood what was going on I liked it a lot,” said Cioffi, who is getting ready to graduate and move on to pursue her PhD. “It was weird because in soccer you run away from the ball to create space, and in rugby you run to the ball.”

    But rugby? For an athlete of such diminutive stature?

    “I definitely usually am the smallest person on the field,” she said. “I think I know how to play without getting beaten up. I think most people get hurt because they don’t play aggressively.

    “I’ve been lucky; I’ve only had two concussions and a couple of black eyes.”

    Cioffi, a 2010 Rutland graduate, was recruited to the team at URI and the Rams don’t regret it. By the second half of her first collegiate game she was on the field, and barring injury was, there the rest of her college years.

    Cioffi plays the scrum half position, where one of the assignments is to take the pass from the scrum and move it along to the fly half.

    It was Cioffi’s sophomore year when the Rams won the Division II portion of the Beast of the East, an annual tournament in Portsmouth, R.I. which attracts more than 30 colleges in two divisions.

    URI breezed through the event without allowing a point.

    In Cioffi’s junior year, the URI women’s team moved up to Division I and finished second behind Boston University, commendable for a team that had graduated much of its experience.

    But the Rams came back this year and scored a Division I crown on the weekend of April 12 in impressive fashion.

    They started out with victories of 34-0 over Boston College and 38-5 over Yale.

    Then they knocked off 2-0 Northeastern 18-0 before engaging in a dogfight with UConn, winning 8-3 with a late try.

    Ironically, Northeastern is one of the schools to accept Cioffi into its post-graduate program.

    Cioffi, who seeks her doctorate in audiology, will study next year at Hofstra and does not rule out more rugby.

    “I would definitely encourage them to try it,” she said when asked what she would tell an aspiring rugger.

    “It’s a community. It’s normal during a game to try to hurt other teams, but then we all get together and have a barbeque.

    “I could sit with a bunch of 50-year-olds and talk rugby for hours.”
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