Alexandria Soto is defying gender roles by earning a starting position as the left wing on the ACU Men’s Rugby team.
Soto, a freshman kinesiology and sports management major from San Antonio, discovered the rugby team at ACU fest and was persuaded by the coach to attend practice and try it out.
Even though Soto ran track for eight years and has some soccer experience, Soto said that nothing could have prepared her for the physical intensity of rugby.
“It’s really physically challenging, considering how hard I’m working and how strong I’m getting, the guys are always going to be ahead of me anatomically, that’s just how its going to be,” Soto said. “It just makes me have to work twice as hard. There’s just limitations that are set up because I am a girl and there’s just some things I can’t do physically because I am a girl. There’s lots of setbacks and things I have to deal with everyday, even at practice.”
Despite the setbacks and challenges, Soto said her teammates are more than willing to assist her with her struggles.
“Definitely they know I need the extra help, so all of the guys are willing to stay after and help me or get there early and talk me through practice, so it’s a really good support system that they give,” Soto said.
In the first game of the season, Soto was given the opportunity to start and did not disappoint.
“Alex brought something to the team that no one else could in the fact that she showed that one, she is able to do the job of a guy, and two she’s able to take the place of someone else who was supposed to start,” said Aaron Pokluda, vice president of the rugby club.
Adrian Escobedo, freshman nutrition major from Round Rock, said that he recognizes Alex’s contributions and dedication to the team not because she’s a woman, but because she puts her heart into the team.
“She works hard like all of us and she fits right in,” Escobedo said. “We push her to be better just like everybody else. We always get excited when she tackles someone because we know she’s putting her body on the line for the team.”
Off the field, Brian Switzenberg, freshman kinesiology major from Plainview, recognized the impact that Soto has on her teammates.
“If I have learned anything from Alex, it is to break out of social norms and our comfort zones to tread a new path and set a new standard for what it means to be a champion,” Switzenberg said.
The biggest feat that the team has had to overcome isn’t playing with a woman, but rather playing with so much inexperience. With only two players having previous rugby experience, Soto is not alone.
“Alex has laid out a lot of hits and taken a lot of hits and I think anyone who has seen a game knows that she’s in the thick of it just like everyone else,” Pokluda said. “I think the fact that we’ve had issues lately has not been due so much to the fact that we’re coed, its been due to the fact that we have a lot of people who simply never played the game before and they’re still learning.”
Soto said her favorite part of the team is the brotherhood. The team prides itself on family, and they’ve made it clear that anyone is welcome as long as they’re willing to work hard and learn.
“They don’t mind that I’m a girl at all. They just think as long as I’m out here ready to work and hold up my end of the team and do what they’re doing, it doesn’t matter if I’m a boy or I’m a girl, tall or short, as long as I’m out there doing what I need to do for my team they’re happy to have me.”
Soto’s teammates look forward to playing the rest of the semester with her and witnessing her growth with each passing game.
“Alex is a talented and hardworking individual and an inspiration to everyone,” Escobedo said. “She is an example that nothing can hold you back from what you really want in life. Her story should give encouragement to girl athletes around campus to pursue something and to give full effort into it and not give up no matter what.”
Pokluda said it will be interesting to see how she grows due to her prior experience in soccer. This background has given her a better understanding of endurance and tactical awareness.
“It’ll be fun to see how she exploits that against teams like Prairie View and Southern Methodist,” Pokluda said.
The rugby team will be traveling to Dallas on Saturday to play SMU, but will be back on Oct. 29 playing Prairie View A&M at home.