There are champions ... and then there are champions.
Consider the BYU women's rugby team, a club squad that drew international attention in 2010 for refusing an opportunity to play for a national title since the their second round contest was scheduled to take place on a Sunday and that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
According to head coach Tom Waqa, the decision made by his players last season made them champions of their faith -- now they want to be champions on the field.
"When we first found out last year that we wouldn't get the chance to play, we were heartbroken," said Kara Remington, a senior fly half and team captain. "Something we really wanted was taken from us. It was really disappointing but we got a lot of positive responses. People were proud and said we were great examples for youth. Even people that were not of our faith were commending us for doing what we thought was right. While we weren't national champions, we got more attention for standing for something we believed in."
While that meant the team surrendered the chance to take on Penn State for a shot at the Final Four, it became an advantage for the players and for the team as a whole.
"It brought the team together," said Kayla Ellingson, a senior lock who also is the president of the club and a two-year All-American. "When we left for the tournament, we knew that we weren't going to play on Sunday, so we had a blast. It built unity and was unlike anything I have ever experienced."
Junior wing Rebekah Siebach, who has also competed on the USA Under-20 team, had only joined the team earlier that season and she said it became a very personal experience.
"It was a chance for me to follow my beliefs," she explained. "Often you never see the effects of your decisions but this was something that strengthened me personally."
While the choice to not play on Sunday got all the attention last year, it's not something the team considers very often any more.
"We've tried to put the whole issue behind us," Waqa said. "We will never know what could've happened and we still feel bad for the seniors last year, but now we're looking forward to this year's tournament."
It's difficult to say how much influence the disappointment of 2010 had on the Cougars but there certainly is no doubt that this has been the best season ever for the BYU rugby club.
"This has been a banner year for our club," Remington said. "We've only been around for 10 years but what started as a club for fun has blossomed into a very competitive team. We've played strong all year and are undefeated."
It's not easy to do as the women are on a team that relies on donations and fundraisers, as well as the time and effort volunteered by Waqa and assistants Eric Taito and Kirsten Siebach.
They also play a sport that doesn't have same recognition as the big-name athletic events, but Waqa says people that give it a chance find it to be just as exciting.
"We invite everyone to come out and see it for themselves," the coach said. "Rugby is a contact sport and we know there is the negative perception of it being violent and brutal, but the rules have been modified in the last hundred years to make it safe. It's a very technical game that is fun to play, but you never know unless you actually join a team and get to feel that chemistry."
While the women who play on the Cougar squad feel that chemistry every day, it was never more potent than during the crowning moment of the season so far. That came against rugby powerhouse Stanford as BYU played the Cardinal in the Pacific Coast Championship on April 16.
"We came into that game with the drive to win," Siebach said. "We had the intensity and the desire, and laid everything out there. It was like a national championship and we had everyone go out and do their job."
Although Stanford has won multiple national titles in recent years, that game belonged to the Cougars as they were able to earn the 24-7 win and win the conference crown.
"It has been great to work with them and to see them succeed," Waqa said. "They have been so determined and that's something you see in every practice. They gave it their all."
The victory meant that the Cougars enter the national competition as the top seed from the Pacific Coast. They start what they hope will be a deep run be facing UCLA.
"We're really excited," Ellington said. "We're coming in with the seed we deserved so we have a good starting position. If we play like we did against Stanford, we will be tough to beat."
The entire team knows that to have the type of success they want, they have to be consistent.
"Rugby is a game of consistency," Remington said. "With 15 girls on each side, you can't just ride a superstar. If we play at the level we've been playing at, we can beat ourselves but no one can beat us."
Siebach said simply: "Everyone has to do their part for us to be successful."
The tournament - which has no Sunday conflicts this year - begins in the Sweet 16 round in Blaine, Minn. on April 29.
Jared Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.