The Oberlin Review

In the Locker Room with Xenna Goh and Sybil Levine

This week, the Review sat down with members of the Rhinos rugby team, co-captain Xenna Goh and social captain Sybil Levine. Despite the stiff competition the Rhinos faced this fall, the seniors reflected on the importance of self-motivation, ripping up prom dresses and being as tough as they feel.

Madeleine O'Meara, Sports Editor

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When and why did you start playing rugby?

Sybil Levine: I started playing rugby my fall semester junior year. I was looking for a new group of people to work out with and hang out with. I was looking for a team — how do I explain it — you know, like, when we line up and charge at the other team, that’s a really great feeling that I have never received from other activities I’ve done. And I always say I want to be as tough as I feel. [Playing rugby] encourages me to be as tough as I feel.

Xenna Goh: I agree. Sybil and I started at the same time, our fall semester junior year. I had just come back from a summer in China, and I was also looking for a team. I was friends with [senior president] Alex Kelly who started off freshman year. It was something that I always wanted to try, but I felt like my body wouldn’t be able to take a day’s worth of tackles. At the time, my body probably couldn’t withstand getting tackled. Initially, the sport was very intimidating, but once we started practicing tackling —

SL: — falling first. And then tackling.

XG: That’s important. And rucking over the ball — I just completely fell in love with the sport, and after practice I would go home and Wikipedia rugby articles and look up YouTube videos of rugby, big old men playing rugby. There’s something really empowering about knowing that you can physically bring someone down.

SL: Or go right through them.

XG: Another really cool thing about rugby is that after we play a game, we will social with [the other team] afterwards. After 80 minutes on the field beating each other up [and] kicking and screaming at each other, there’s something so gratifying about getting together with the other team and drinking and singing rugby songs.

SL: It’s like, pizza, PBR, and songs. [Laughs.]

Women’s rugby is associated with empowerment of certain communities and has a very distinct culture. How has being a part of that community affected your experience at Oberlin, and how you’ve developed your identity here?

XG: Personally, rugby has helped a lot with body image. Rugby requires all different body types for all different kinds of positions. Before I joined rugby, I was not really confident in how I looked, but being able to use parts of my body in rugby that before made me self-conscious has helped me gain confidence in my body.

SL: Especially as a small person, people question my ability to play rugby, and Xenna’s right, it does require people of all sizes to successfully play the game. Short, tall, skinny, wide, you know, whatever direction you are shaped we can find a place for you to be. Plus, there are ways for everyone to tackle. I am pretty good at big-girl tackles.

XG: You are.

SL: Building off of body image, [rugby is] accepting of so much more than that — you know, where you are in your stage of life, you can bring what you want to the team and leave what you want. We’re not going to push your boundaries, but we’re going to challenge them. We’re going to respect you, and we’re going to love you for whatever you want to do.

XG: We also celebrate all of our bodies. We’re publishing a rugby calendar, and that is a way of showcasing our rugby bodies and trying to bring out this empowerment to all women and transgendered people who play the sport.

What are some of your team’s traditions?

SL: Aside from the general rugby socialing, we have our own team socials on Wednesdays, [called] D-team. People can just guess what the “D” means.

XG: A big part of the culture is the rugby songs. Originally I thought they were just a part of Oberlin rugby, but I found out that they are universal songs sung by all rugby teams. Another thing we do at Oberlin is award a “hog” and “hustler” at each game. A “hog” is someone who’s demonstrated ball-mindedness.

SL: Going for the ball, you want that ball all the time.

XG: It’s usually awarded to a forward, and the “hustler” is awarded to a back.

SL: The hustler is getting things done; they’re hustling and moving the ball. That can look like yards on the field or fast hands.

What has been your favorite rugby moment so far at Oberlin?

SL: Rugby prom. That was such a surprise.

XG: That’s also part of universal rugby culture.

SL: Rugby is notorious for having alternatively themed games. This year we’re playing rugby prom [against] Hiram [College]. It is what it sounds like, playing rugby in prom dresses. Or tuxedoes, whatever you would prefer. That’s been one of my favorite moments. It’s so fun. Thirty people out there in prom gear and cleats, and you just run at each other. If you don’t get them it’s OK, you go for the train or grab their sleeve.

XG: It wasn’t my favorite rugby experience ever, but it’s definitely a memorable one, is when we played in a tournament called Sevens in the Snow. Traditionally there are 15 players on the field, but sevens is half the team. So the game changes a little bit, there’s a lot more running. But this happened in February and we went out to Hiram, and it was the day after this huge snowstorm. It was the coldest I’ve ever been, but nothing felt better than when I got tackled and fell to the ground, and when I was expecting a hard fall I just landed in the snow. I’m glad that’s something that’s behind me now. I never want to — well maybe I would someday…

SL: Not a big proponent of playing in the snow.

What’s been something that has surprised you about playing rugby?

XG: I guess all the shenanigans.

SL: That surprised me too. And the intimacy of the group. There is a really close bond between everybody on the team.

XG: What has surprised me, and I guess this has changed over the course of rugby at Oberlin, but was how safe I’ve felt, always, even though it’s such a dangerous sport, there is an emphasis on safety. We have two safety coordinators who facilitate different people’s levels of comfort and making sure that they always feel like they’re accepted and not in any physical danger.

How do you work to motivate each other without a coach?

SL: We do have captains who spearhead the leadership… that’s a little redundant. We have captains who are spearheads. [Laughs.] They are in charge of leading practice and making sure that everyone shows up to practice. It’s a tough sport. If you don’t show up to practice, you’re not going to be put in for a game.

XG: We’re a club sport, so there are different levels of commitment on the team. We recently have been really emphasizing attendance, because it’s a safety concern. If you’re not tackling three days out of the week, and you go in a game, that’s just not safe because you haven’t gone over the motions of tackling, and your body isn’t used to the feel of it. Another thing that I, as a captain, have done recently is encourage meditation and visualizing the game — making that perfect tackle, or making that try — and I think that’s definitely helped. We have chalk talks too, especially at the beginning of the semester when we have rookies who don’t understand the complexities of the game. It is a pretty dirty and complex game; if you’re only used to watching football, you’re not going to understand that game play keeps happening after the ball is on the ground. Instilling that in the rookies is really important.

SL: We have specific pre-game songs. We have Rhinoceros Success, which is a book that is read to us before every game. You should probably end the interview with “Go thee rhino, and make your dreams come true!”

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