If you've lived around the Los Angeles area you may be familiar with this small school. Occidental College is one of the premier colleges in the Los Angeles area, which also holds a long and proud rugby tradition. The school features both a men's and women's rugby programs. For this feature we are looking at the Black Shirts (otherwise known as the Occidental Women's Rugby Club).
For this feature we caught up with the club's co-president Leah Winfrey, an Economics major who is a the club's scrum half. Leah who is in her junior year joined the club in her freshman year of school. Leah took some time out of her studies and rugby to share with us more about the Oxy Women's Side. Below is our interview.
The Rugby Republic (RR): So let us know how/when the women's program started at Oxy?
Leah Winfrey for Oxy (LW): The women's rugby program at Occidental was established in 1965 and has grown significantly over the past few years. We are known as "The Blackshirts" and are a no-cut, club sport. We accept athletes from all skill and fitness levels with and without rugby experience. We participate in the Division 2 league, playing teams across Southern California, such as USC, Claremont Schools, Cal State-Northridge, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, and UC-Riverside.
RR: Do most your players try rugby when they get to college or do your players have prior experience?
LW: Although many of our players have some athletic background, most of them have not played or been exposed to rugby before coming to college. Rugby is one of the few club sports offered here at Oxy and so we often receive interest from players who are interested in staying active and are curious about what rugby has to offer.
RR: Oxy has a fairly long rugby tradition as you pointed out, so how has your club been able to build and add to that?
LW: Over the past few years our numbers have grown significantly and I think that factor alone contributes to adding to the Oxy rugby history. We make efforts to stay in touch with rugby alumni and social media has also helped us continue to build on our clubs presence and tradition.
RR: What's the best part about playing for Oxy?
LW: I can't speak for everyone but personally, the best part about playing for Oxy has been the relationships I've formed with various members of the team. Not everyone plays rugby for all four years of college but the relationships I've made during practices/games/on the field have lasted much longer than someone's participation in the sport. Since we are a club sport we gather a lot of interest from students as well as lose a lot of players who find out rugby may not be the sport for them. Regardless, there is a nature about playing for Oxy that bonds you and allows you to connect with each other outside of the ame which has been a really special experience for me throughout my college career that I was given through playing rugby r Oxy.
RR: How do you get students to come out? What's the biggest selling point?
LW: Word of mouth goes a long way. Since Oxy is such a tight-knit community, a lot of our recruitment occurs inside the classroom and around campus. People see an "Oxy Rugby" sticker or hoodie and it sparks a sense of curiosity in them and chances are high that they're also in a class with someone on the team so when it comes up in conversation, most people are interested in either watching a game or trying the sport out. The players on our team are also involved in other diverse clubs outside of rugby and so their connections with other people and support from those extra-curricular activities helps promote our club and encourages students to come out.
I think one of our biggest selling points is the opportunity to try something new and be a part of a team! Playing a team sport can often be associated with a competitive "be the best" attitude but that is certainly not the case with rugby. Since most people have never played before, the opportunity to try something new without the fear and pressure of being the best on the field is definitely a selling point that makes rugby appealing
RR: You are located in Los Angels. Are most your players from the LA area or outside? How does that help with building a team?
LW: Oxy's student population is extremely diverse and our players are from all over the world. We have international students on the team as well as students from around the area. This helps build a team because rugby becomes a place where you the student can meet new people and really connect with those whom they may not have interacted with outside of the sport.
RR: How has your club prepared for this coming season? Off-season programs, etc?
LW: The fall semester is our biggest recruitment season and we spend the whole time ensuring that we are teaching the game so that we promote safety, strength and fun. A few of our pre-season traditions include participating in UCSD's tournament (most peoples first games are played here!) "Scrum by the Sea", miscellaneous friendly's against teams in the area and a pre-spring-semester camp.
RR: What's your club's goals on the field this season?
LW: A few goals this year are to definitely get some points on the board! We always play an extremely defense heavy game and we'd really like to present more of an offensive attack. This obviously boils down to smaller goals such as rucking through the other team, winning scrums and getting the ball out to the backs faster which we work on in practice and so we're excited to have the opportunities to work towards our bigger goal.
RR: What type of support does your program receive from the college? Financial support, access to fields/weight rooms, etc?
LW: The college provides us with many resources to succeed. We receive funding from the school which helps us compensate our coach who dedicates his time and energy into coaching us, miscellaneous tournament fees as well as money for new jerseys and other things that pop up. In addition to school support, e also hold various fundraisers throughout the year to help pay for these expenses. In terms of field space and athletic equipment, we have access to our main turf football field for our practices as well as games and the weight room which is available to all students. Beginning this semester we also have access to a trainer which has been extremely helpful during practices and games.
RR: What's the game you are all looking forward to and why?
LW: We always look forward to playing against the Claremont team. Since the teams in our division are mainly big universities (larger student populations), we often struggle with having the same amount of players/subs. Claremont is a school that is relatively similar in size and so we always look forward to playing them. We also have a long history with them of winning/losing and it's typically one of our most evenly skilled matches.
RR: How do you develop and build chemistry especially with many college seasons being short?
LW: Even though our college season is only a few months long, we spend the fall semester teaching the game and emphasize the importance of staying healthy and strong throughout the year. Rugby is an extremely physical sport and it requires all players to commit to it outside of season as well. Part of being able to develop and build chemistry is making this commitment to yourself and the team and being able to reach out to each other for motivation and support.
RR: What's one thing people should know about Oxy women's rugby?
LW: ople should know that we absolutely love when y'all come out to watch our games! Our season just started and I'll copy our schedule below. Support means the world to us and the energy we get from the sidelines is contagious. We'd love to have people come out and watch our games.
2/11 Oxy vs. UCR @ UCR, 11 AM
2/18 Oxy vs. Claremont @ Oxy, 3 PM
2/25 Oxy vs. Long Beach @ Long Beach, 1 pm
3/11 Oxy vs. Grand Canyon @ Oxy, 1 pm
3/18 Oxy vs. UCI @ Oxy, 8 PM
RR: Anything you'd like to add?
LW: Our Instagram is probably the most active media platform so follow us on Instagram @oxywomynsrugby! :) And feel free to reach out for anything at our club email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We want to thank Leah and the Black Shirts of Oxy for taking the time to chat with us and let us know about their program. Rugby is abound people so whether you are looking to play, or just support all you have to do is look around. If you have a free Sat in the LA Area go up to Oxy and support the women.