Play-On! Women, Leadership & Rugby

By Jose Felix Magana, MPA’14, Correspondent

The Harvard-Radcliffe Rugby Football Club just conquered their first Ivy League rugby championship in history. The team clinched the title with a 29-0 stomping of then-undefeated Dartmouth. College junior Lenica Morales-Valenzuela added a try (that is, she scored a touchdown) in the final minutes of the championship game. These are impressive team and individual achievements.

We sat down with “Lenni” Morales-Valenzuela to learn about her experience in her chosen sport.

The Citizen: Please describe the game for all of those (like me) that know nothing about it:

Lenni Morales-Valenzuela: Rugby is a cross between soccer, American football and basketball. Normally, the game is played with 15 players on the field. The forwards gain and maintain possession of the ball. The scrumhalf connects the forwards and the backs. And the backs run plays off of the forwards’ ball. The point is to have all 15 players working together in a flow that dominates the other team. You can’t pass the ball forward. Tackling is allowed, but you can only tackle the person with the ball. Everything makes more sense once you start playing. We practice two hours per day, five days a week, with an extra hour every other day. We also take time for personal rehab and to work on skills. Game days are on Saturday and we rest on Sunday.

C: What attracted you to the sport?

LMV:  The first thing was the novelty. I was in the market to try something new and rugby seemed fun. I stayed for the culture and community the team has created. They are all very supportive, not only about my growth as an athlete, but also about my growth as an individual and a student.

C: What makes rugby special compared to other women’s sports?

LMV:  The transformation that a woman undergoes once she starts playing rugby. Rugby is refreshing because real women – with different shapes, sizes and curves – are invited to play. A woman’s body is celebrated; there is no ideal size or shape for the perfect rugby player. All positions call for the same ruthless intensity. In the game of rugby, a woman is told to go for what she wants and not let anything stand in her way. A woman gains confidence in her body and herself by playing rugby.

C: Tell me more about the physical and mental transformation you experienced.

LMV:  By playing rugby I’ve become more aware of my body. I feel stronger, faster and more agile than I did before. Mentally, I’m more willing to go after what I want. If I can do anything on the rugby field, it’s easy for that feeling to spill over into other aspects of my life.

C: How is rugby influencing your academic development?

LMV:  Rugby is keeping me focused. The time commitments required of a Varsity athlete make sure I use my free time wisely to get work done. I know that there will be times devoted to rugby, so I have to make sure all other things I aspire to accomplish are done outside of those times.

C: How would you define your role in the team? Especially in relation to the other team members?

LMV:  I would say my role in the team is to be a workhorse and a jokester. I like to work hard every practice and show noticeable improvement. When I don’t, I use it as an excuse to work harder. I wasn’t the most athletic person when I first joined, but I like to think I provide an example of someone who became better at rugby through hard work. On the flip side, I’m playful and kind of a jokester. I love making people laugh. Most times, it’s not intentional, but it works out. A big component about playing rugby is having fun.

C: What drives a Rugby team?

LMV:  We each play for the other 14 players on the field. Your rugby team becomes your family so when you’re out on the field, you’re playing with and for your family. Our coach says that the people in the huddle with you are the reasons why you get up again and again, forcing yourself past your physical limits for a whole game.

C: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from rugby?

LMV:  The importance of lasting friendships. I’ve made friends through rugby that have shaped my Harvard career and I couldn’t imagine my life without them. They’re an amazing group of women who have taught me how to love and be loved.

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