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Breaking free: Westfield women’s rugby players, coach talk confidence, camaraderie gained from the sport.

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Rugby just might be the answer to instilling confidence in young women.

Founded in 2009, the Westfield Shamrocks Rugby Club, prepares girls for the opportunity to play the sport at NCAA Division I colleges. But whether they join for sportsmanship, to build confidence or just have fun, young women can forge a positive self-image buy participating in the team sport.

Gabby Windle, a Westfield High School sophomore, has played rugby for several years. She is attending practices for the spring season.

“I like that it has the same rules as all the boys teams,” Windle said. “There’s no different rules based on gender. I like that it’s pretty much equal in the playing (between boys and girls teams).”

Windle said the sport has built confidence.
“It’s a sport I really excelled in compared to all the other sports I’ve ever played,” she said. “I think it really helps with the confidence aspect of my life.”

Windle embraces the aggressive aspect of the sport.

“I just have an aggression that I’ve always had and being limited in using it in every other sport and then given all this freedom in this sport really switched things for me,” she said.

Windle said expressing the aggression in a positive outlet can be healthy and beneficial.

“I think it’s a pretty pivotal thing for sports in general. Rugby is getting more attention as it gets bigger and bigger, and if they’re like, ‘Oh, they have the same rules (between female and male teams), then why can’t other sports?’” Windle said. “Maybe shifts could be upcoming for females in sports.”

When playing rugby, which involves tackling, the only protection the players wear is a mouthguard. There are no pads.

“You’re constantly on the ground,” Windle said. “It’s really animalistic.”

Windle, however, said she’s not afraid of getting hurt. She broke her ribs in a rugby game in fall 2019 and was able to play through the injury. She said there are traditionally fewer injuries in rugby than football.

Westfield Shamrocks Rugby Club co-coach Rob Andrezejewski said players learn the correct way to hit and fall when tackling.

“We teach the appropriate ways of contact,” he said. “We teach you how to hit and fall safely and not to rely on the safety of padding. People tend to get more comfortable when they have pads, and they feel invincible. When you’re out there (for rugby), everybody is out there to hit, but everybody is out there to hit safely.”

Andrezejewski has been coaching rugby for almost three years and he said he has seen fewer injuries in the sport than he’s seen in football. He also said rugby is the ultimate women’s sport.

“Everything is the same for women, for men, the number of people on the field, the size of the field, everything is equal,” he said. “Rugby has a position for every person, so it doesn’t matter if you’re worried about body shape, it doesn’t matter if you’re worried about your speed or anything like that. We have a position for every player, which is why it’s all inclusive and why I think it’s the best sport for women.”

Pursuing rugby at the collegiate level

Westfield High School sophomore Gabby Windle, who plans to pursue a career in law or medicine in college, said she’s already looking at which NCAA Division I universities offer rugby. At the high school level, rugby is a club sport. Locally, it is offered through the Westfield Shamrocks Rugby Club

“It’s really new. I looked two years ago for stuff for college and it’s very limited, and when I looked again now, even more schools started rugby up,” Windle said. “Instead of an intramural program, they made it an actual league, and the numbers keep going up as far as how many schools offer it.”

Rugby has two seasons. The fall seasons is for sevens, or when there’s seven players on the field, and the spring season is for fifteens, or when there are 15 players on the field. Windle plays both seasons, but she enjoys sevens more because there’s more running and she is a strong runner.

“I hope the sport gets bigger and it gets more recognition, especially because there are so many women playing it,” Windle said. “I really want it to spread out through schools and become a bigger sport like basketball or football.”


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