Why did Allie Schrenker decide to sign up for the women’s rugby club team at UTC despite never having played before?
“I just wanted to hit people,” she says with a laugh. “I just walked up to a booth at orientation and asked, ‘Women can play rugby?’ I had no idea. I signed up right there.”
What started as a way to get out some aggression has turned into a full-blown, self-described obsession and future career. A senior majoring in communications, Schrenker is co-captain of the UTC women’s club team and spent a week this past summer competing in an international tournament in Mexico City.
After completing a grueling tryout process with USA Rugby South, the 20-year-old was selected as the second-youngest player to join the team in the Rugby Americas North 10s championship.
“It was unreal to be in another country playing the sport that I love, surrounded by so many like-minded people. It was honestly a dream come true,” she says.
Schrenker and her teammates went on to win the tournament after facing off against squads from the Bahamas, Mexico and Jamaica.
Schrenker loves to win but for her, rugby is more about the camaraderie. She spent her childhood playing multiple sports such as swimming and basketball in her hometown of Bristol, Tennessee, and feels that she’s found true, lifelong friends in her rugby teammates.
“There is this intense bond in rugby that I’ve never, ever come close to experiencing in any other sport,” she says. “Rugby is such a cultural sport. Every player has so much respect for the game and for their teammates and opponents. It’s the only sport I’ve ever played where you can dominate a team and then have a beer with them after the game.
“The high intensity of the sport demands respect. You get hit so hard and you don’t think you can get back up, but you have to. And you do it over and over and over again. It is a challenge in every sense of the word. It takes a certain kind of person to play rugby, and I think every single rugby player knows that. That’s where the respect comes from.”
The women on the rugby team are now some of Schrenker’s best friends.
“They’re wonderful people, so relentless and loving. I know that any one of them would do anything for me because they already have during practices and games. I sprained my wrist last fall and had to be taken out of a game. I was crying so hard. I was in a lot of pain, but I was mostly worried about not being able to continue to play the sport I love.
“I had so many teammates come up to me crying afterward. I was like, ‘Why are you crying? Are you hurt, too?’ They said, ‘No, we thought you wouldn’t be able to play anymore. We know this is your dream.’ It was amazing to realize that many people understand you so well and will be there for you like that. I have goosebumps right now just remembering it. I love them so much. I really do.”
Rugby has given Schrenker more than a sense of community; it’s helped her with self-acceptance as well. At 5-9, 187 pounds, she dominates on the rugby pitch—what the field is called in the sport—but fitting in with her high-school peers wasn’t so easy.
“Before rugby, I had never really been that confident in myself. I come from a small town where all the popular girls were small and feminine. In rugby, everyone is encouraged to be themselves. Being a ‘big girl’ is admired in the rugby community. Ever since I started playing, I’ve become so much more confident in who I am. Not to be cliché, but rugby has really shown me that my uniqueness is beautiful.”
Schrenker encourages women of all shapes and sizes to try rugby.
“All body types are necessary in rugby. The team needs someone who’s very small or 6-feet-tall or 300 pounds to fill all the positions,” she explains. “For my position, you have to be big. You have to have force. But there’s another position where the person needs to be tiny to really excel. Rugby needs everybody, and we appreciate everybody. No other sport really offers that.”
For now, Schrenker is finishing up her bachelor’s degree and hopes to try out for some professional rugby teams in Europe after she graduates.
“I knew I loved playing rugby since my sophomore year, but I had never allowed myself to think that I could do something with it,” she says. “It seemed like a frivolous idea to me until my coach told me about these upper-level camps I could go to after I graduate. He said I could have a legitimate rugby career. I remember calling home that night and saying, ‘Mom, I think rugby is going to open a lot of doors for me.’ And it has.”