Power. Strength. Boldness. Sportsmanship. Friendship. Dexterity. Grit.
These words float around, weaving and entangling with each other as stories pour out of the Rambelle Rugby team. Upon interviewing members of the group, the athletes shared with the Ram Page three ideas integral to their team: first, many of the players did not understand rugby in the beginning; second, the sport was more than just tackling and running; and third, rugby is empowering and bringing women together at Angelo State University.
“I had no idea what rugby was,” Rambelle Rugby President Kayli Jo Kean said. “I had never heard of it, and I'd never watched it. The first time I met a rugby player was at one of our orientations.”
The sport seems to almost tug unsuspecting members in with some kind of gravitational pull.
“I actually was not interested in rugby at all,” current member and former officer of the Rambelle Rugby team Desiree Reyes said. “I was approached by one of the previous rugby girls and she commented on my legs and said, ‘Hey, you have really nice legs and you look athletic … Are you interested in playing rugby?’ Mind you, I hadn't watched rugby. I only knew the fact that it was a sport that had contact.”
Reyes said rugby was unique in that the sport was built on rules and plays that were unlike any other sport she had played.
“Up until that point, I'd never played a contact sport in my life. The [closest] was softball and with very little contact,” Reyes said. “Any sport you've ever played, its rules are the exact opposite from rugby. Like with softball or basketball, you always throw the ball forward, you rarely throw it back. In rugby, however, you have to throw it back; if you throw it forward, you automatically lose the ball and the other team gets it.”
Meanwhile, Kean formed connections between past experiences with teams she had previously been part of to understand rugby.
“It took me a while to understand what was going on in the game. It's really just finding that beauty in the chaos,” Kean said. “Luckily, a couple of things that I needed to know in wrestling ‒ like body form and being low ‒ played into rugby very well. One of the things my coach noticed first was how I was able to get low because in wrestling you have to be able to get low and everything.”
While rugby may look chaotic on the outside, skills and techniques are crucial to the sport.
“When you get used to playing rugby, you don't really have to think about the basics per se, but if you don't do them well they will end up beating you,” Reyes said, “When you're playing with really good teams, it normally comes down to who can do the basics better. It's really important that we start off with a good foundation for the basics before we do plays on the field.”
Hard work on drills and practice can often be more exciting when bonding with a team that feels like a family, according to Kean.
“Rugby is physically demanding, but that's something everybody can work with, but rugby is generally just a very fun sisterhood,” Kean said. “We all hang out together, and we see each other outside of practice. We even do a family dinner every week.”
Some of the greatest friendships made have been through the connections formed on the team.
“The majority of the girls have become like my closest friends. I'm actually going to a wedding for one of them that graduated two years ago in a couple of days, and she's one of my lifelong friends,” Reyes said, “I think it helps that when we create the foundation for this club, we're also creating that opening for the girls to have someone that they can rely on outside of rugby.”
Many of the memories the students form with the team will be cherished forever.
“We went to Pennsylvania for our championships, and it was the coldest, muddiest and most chaotic time,” Kean said. “It was just so much, but all of us were thinking, ‘It’s our last game.’ So, you know, we were having fun. We played so hard, but it was messy. We were slipping and falling on our faces. It was crazy, but honestly, that was probably the most fun time I've ever had.”
Like every organization, however, there are some unprecedented challenges.
“There’s a lot of hoops that we have to jump through even with the school, you know, fighting for funding so that we can go to tournaments,” Reyes said. “It's hard to have a voice when you're not very well known on campus, and it's even harder when you do voice your opinions and your needs and yet they’re not met.”
Rambelle Rugby is not only for those who play but a family for women to be a part of.
“We accept everyone and anyone, and you don't have to be athletic,” Reyes said. “If you don't even want to play rugby, you just want to come and hang out with us, come work out. We would love for you to play rugby, and that's normally our goal, but it's also not our only goal. We just want to be able to have a place where people can come and feel comfortable and feel like they're part of something.”