In unusual season, women’s rugby focuses on what they can control – The Bowdoin Orient

Mindy Leder
Members of the women’s rugby team find ways to safely practice in accordance to the College’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Facing many challenges this semester, the Bowdoin women’s rugby team hopes to focus on fostering community with their first years and strengthening their team both physically and mentally. Without training and competitions, one of the team’s top priorities is addressing the issue of race and equity in athletics.

MaryBeth Mathews, head coach of the women’s rugby team, believes the team has been successful at maintaining their spirits, even after the cancellation of their fall season due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“They’ve been really, really good because they’re just a fun group,” said Mathews in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Rugby is not a traditional American sport, so it attracts someone who’s curious about it and brings along a sense of joy.”

Team member Ashlynn Autrey ’22 emphasized her and her teammates’ commitment to one another.

“I think that everyone definitely feels big on wanting to stay connected during this time,” said Autrey in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

The team began the season with a meeting over Zoom, during which they highlighted the importance of both maintaining their physical and mental health, welcoming their first-year members and remaining a unified front even as they are scattered around the globe.

“They had a wonderful goal session and then created the commitments that they would make to reach those goals,” said Mathews. “I was quite proud of them.”

The team will continue to train using Volt, an app that allows each team member to customize their workouts based on the equipment they have on hand—whether it be exercise machines, dumbbells, or just bodyweight.

“With the expectation that some people don’t have access [to athletic equipment], our goal is to maintain our strength and conditioning … during this time,” Autrey said.

To stay motivated, team members have “buddy groups” in which they can send pictures of themselves doing their workouts and try to recreate the experience of working out together. As long as the College’s COVID-19 status stays at yellow, team members on campus will meet for socially distant workouts.

“It’s an easy thing to do while six feet apart,” said Autrey, “[We] still have a sense of community between the first years on our team and the few of us upperclassmen.”

The team hopes these exercises will be physically and mentally rewarding. Both Mathews and co-captain Sophia Kerris ’22 encourage team members to prioritize their mental health during these unprecedented circumstances.

“Yes, the working out is for rugby, and it’s because you made a commitment to your team to work out, but it’s also to help you get through this age that we’re going through,” said Mathews.

“We’re all in different situations with different ideas of mental health,” added Kerris in a phone interview with the Orient. “It’s really important that you know yourself best and you know what you are capable of doing right now.”

While the programming will still center around athletics, the team will also use this season as an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about events both relevant to team members and to the world. The team holds weekly meetings, about half of which are focused around rugby. The other half are decidedly unrelated to the sport, and instead, the team dedicates the time to discussing pertinent issues surrounding anti-racism and equity.

“Just because so many of our teammates are BIPOC, and just because we are the most diverse team on campus, we can’t bear that as a statistic and then not actually do the anti-racism work that is associated with it,” said Kerris.

The team intends to take advantage of the time off the field to focus on creating and maintaining a team culture that is actively anti-racist.

“They are creating an action plan for the team to make our team culture even more inclusive than it already is and address the anti-racism issue that is so big and important,” said Mathews.

“We might not be able to compete, and we might not be able to be there physically together,” said Kerris. “But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work that needs to be done.”

While the team continues to navigate the turbulence of the fall semester—complete with Zoom fatigue, uncomfortable online silences and technical difficulties—they are nonetheless optimistic about the avenues for growth that lay ahead.

“I think we have a real opportunity here,” said Mathews. “I’m hopeful that we come out of this stronger than ever and more committed to our ideals, our principles and to rugby.”

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