One word can accurately describe the Occidental Womxn’s Rugby Club: grit. From grunts that echo in Jack Kemp Stadium to calf-length bruises, the womxn’s team makes a statement both on and off the field.
The Womxn’s Rugby program was established at Occidental in 1965 and has grown significantly in the past few years, according to Social Chair Mickey Alvarez (senior). In the last year, the team has garnered interest from first years, however, they are not the only newcomers on the team. Alvarez explained that many sophomore and junior rookies make up the Black Shirts this season. Members are able to join at any point during their Occidental careers, no prior experience required.
“I joined rugby because I heard nothing but good things about it my first two years at Oxy,” Claire Krelitz (junior) said. “I was nervous that I joined too late, but I did it anyways and it’s the best thing I’ve done [at Occidental] so far.”
Alvarez mentioned that joining late is not the only thing newcomers are worried about — the aggressive nature of the sport deters some from signing up.
“A comment we get a lot from first-time players is ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna get hurt,’ which, yes, getting injured is possible, but you can also get injured playing soccer, or on a wild night out,” Alvarez said. “We’ve seen players get worse injuries off the field just walking around.”
President Grace Gowen (senior) and Alvarez work to teach their teammates proper techniques to protect themselves. The senior womxn on the team set a certain standard of maturity, according to assistant coach and professor of comparative studies in literature and culture and religious studies Malek Moazzam-Doulat.
“They take care of the younger players in a way that’s kind of amazing to watch,” Moazzam-Doulat said. “When this set of first years goes to their second year they’ll have such an advantage over players that didn’t have that experience. They mature exponentially.”
Moazzam-Doulat believes this kind of leadership will not only improve the club’s collegiate record but could be the first step to seeing players make it to the national team.
“We’ve had a number of players come through Oxy, go up through the ranks and play on the national team,” Moazzam-Doulat said. “You play club and get your skills up to the level of adult players, savvier, often trickier players, and then someone will either recommend you or come to a game and invite you to play.”
The womxn’s team plays schools throughout Southern California, such as the University of Southern California; the Claremont Consortium; California State University, Northridge; University of California, Irvine; California State University, Long Beach; and the University of California, Riverside. The teams they play against are much larger, comprised of 40 or 50 players whereas Oxy only has 33, but according to Moazzam-Doulat, the Black Shirts are relentless. He explained that the Black Shirts are not afraid to back down from a challenge and have made that clear time and time again.
“When these women get knocked down, depleted by injuries, they just keep playing harder and better,” Moazzam-Doulat said. “Even more so at the end of the game than they did in the beginning. It’s that kind of courage in the face of that kind of violence, that is about as promising a thing as there is.”
Speaking up and communicating on the field is vital, according to Alvarez. She says the Black Shirts promote female empowerment, coaching womxn to be louder and assert themselves — skills that will be cherished even after graduation.
“We look to promote body inclusivity in rugby in general because with rugby you don’t have to look a certain way to be a part of the sport,” Alvarez said. “You can be bigger or you can be smaller, and there will still be a place where you will excel on the team.”
Alvarez’s sentiments are echoed by other players who praise the collaboration and support that the team promotes. The physicality of the sport necessitates that players literally use each other during games.
“Rugby is an actual team sport. In other team sports you’re on a team, but in rugby, you have to really use your teammates throughout the game,” Krelitz said.
With one game left in the season — against the University of Southern California — the womxn’s rugby team looks to end their season on a high note.
According to Moazzam-Doulat, this season feels like the big potential season.
“Some of these women have never played organized sports before, and they are having amazing seasons. If I were playing them this year I would be thinking, ‘oh I do not want to play them next year.’ One more year of practice and they’re going to be really scary,” Moazzam-Doulat said.