Back from COVID, Womxn’s Rugby centers community and fun

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womxn's rugby
Womxn's Rugby at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 4, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

On March 3, laughter and cheers permeated the Occidental Womxn’s Rugby practice as they began their bi-weekly routine. While restarting in-person practices and games, the team seeks to rebuild their community around fun and collaboration, according to members of the team’s executive board. The team is taking steps to make the experience as welcoming as possible to those who are new to the sport, as many of their former players graduated during the college’s remote semesters.

According to Maggie Saucedo (senior), president of the executive board, the team decided last semester to have coaches come to practice only once a week. This change, in addition to stepping down from their former club league, is intended to make the vibe of the team more laid-back and less focused on competition. Mae Hartwell (sophomore), fundraising chair of the executive board, said the choice to leave the league was also for the safety of the players.

“We had zero recruitment over the pandemic year, which means the majority of our team is rookies,” Hartwell said. “And it takes a bit of practice in rugby to learn how to play it safely.”

The team has had to deal with multiple injuries since rugby is a contact sport.

“Rugby is an injury-prone sport; that’s the reality of it,” Hartwell said. “We do everything we can to prevent injuries and to be proactive about them.”

Saucedo said the players’ skills have swiftly progressed since their return to campus.

“The last game I cried because people were doing so [well],” Saucedo said.

One of the rookies, Ayva Sloo (first year), said she is constantly inspired by her teammates, and they push her to continue working hard.

“I came back from our last game and I was like, ‘I wanna be good. I wanna be that person on the field,’” Sloo said.

Community is what makes the Womxn’s Rugby team most enjoyable, according to Anaiah Diop (senior).

“I would not be playing rugby if it wasn’t for the people,” Saucedo said. “The rugby people are some of the funniest, silliest, smartest people I’ve ever met in my life. I think more than anything I just laugh at practice.”

Diop and Saucedo both said an important part of building a cohesive community is assuring that everyone feels welcome.

“We want to create a safe space for students of color, non-binary students and queer students,” Saucedo said. “When people come, we want to emphasize that everyone is appreciated and valued.”

Diop said she appreciates the inclusive energy of the team, and that it is a welcoming queer space.

“It’s freaking gay,” Diop said.

In addition to laughing, some practices start with dancercise to get their hearts pumping, before moving on to passing and tackling drills, according to Saucedo. These drills involve learning how to fall, tackling foam mats and eventually, tackling each other.

Saucedo said she encourages anyone to join the team, regardless of athletic background.

“You literally need nothing to come and join,” Saucedo said.

Saucedo said anyone can get in contact with the team by emailing rugbywomen@oxy.edu, whether to informally chat with the players or simply show up to practice. The practices are held at the Jack Kemp Stadium every Tuesday and Thursday night and people can join the team at any point in the semester, even towards the end. The team’s next game will be against University of California, Riverside, April 3 at Occidental.