A League of their Own: Lady Volcanoes gearing to dominate Asian Rugby Powerhouse

More and more women are breaking barriers in athletics, particularly in male-dominated sports like rugby. This case is especially true with the Philippine women’s national rugby team, known as the Lady Volcanoes, who are currently blazing trails in the international sports scene as they gear up for this year’s 30th Southeast Asian Games after salvaging a bronze medal finish in Singapore in 2015.

Among the ladies aiming for national team selection in the biennial multi-sport event are star center Sylvia Tudoc and core player Rassiel “Rara” Sales of the Makati Mavericks Sports Foundation, a rugby club founded in 2011 by Rick Santos, Chairman and CEO of the Philippines’ leading real estate service provider Santos Knight Frank and president of the Philippine Rugby Football Union, and Bill Brown, Assistant Superintendent of International School Manila, with their sons Ryan Santos, Reed Santos, Rand Santos, AJ O’Regan-Brown and Wiremu O’Regan-Brown.

Tudoc, 25, and Rara, 27, were part of the Lady Volcanoes lineup who bagged for the Philippines its gold medal in the 2019 Asia Rugby Women’s Sevens Trophy Series with an astounding 26-7 win over host nation Indonesia in August.

Expectations are high as they come, but Tudoc and Sales, along with the rest of the Lady Volcanoes, are all dutiful in their preparations for upcoming key international events.

“After the Trophy Series, we’re proceeding to China for the Olympic Qualifier prior to the SEA Games. This will serve as our tune-up to prepare for the competing teams in the SEA Games,” says Tudoc.

The Philippines will host the 2019 SEA Games rugby sevens tournament on December 7 and 8 at the Clark Parade Grounds.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Despite the dramatic increase in the number of women taking part in competitive and contact sports, many female athletes still face challenges in and outside of the field. A study by the Women’s Sports Foundation cited that female players tend to walk away from pursuing a career in sports for a variety of factors, such as limited access as well as costs and lack of supportive role models.

Tudoc shares similar sentiments: “In the nationals, it is usually the men’s team who are well-known, whereas, for us, we’re still catching up to them. But it’s okay. We love what we do, and kung ano yung kaya nilang gawin, kaya din naming gawin (what they can do, we can also do).” To be fair, Tudoc notes that the men’s rugby team were the ones who jolted the games to local popularity.

“It’s also hard to recruit women athletes here in the country because of the typical stereotype that sports are just for bulky women,” adds Tudoc. Gen Dela Cruz, also a member of the Lady Mavericks who plays for the Fifteens leagues, agrees with her, saying that while strength is important when playing sports, girls playing it can also be “kikay.”

“You’ll be surprised to see some of our teammates wearing makeup when playing, and some would even change into skirts once practice is over. But when you see them in the field— lumbering and wrestling—you’ll be amazed at what they can do,” says Dela Cruz.

A number of studies have cited increased confidence, ambition and motivation among girls who are encouraged to pursue athletic activities.

Sales, on the other hand, expresses her gratitude to the Makati Mavericks Sports Foundation: “We are really thankful to the foundation and to Sir Rick and Coach Bill [Brown]. Makati Mavericks is a kind of team where they provide you with the essential needs to be able to learn and excel in the sport. They’re very supportive in our tournaments and are very hands-on. Sir Rick would even often play with us and give us inputs on where we can further improve.”

The foundation by Rick Santos hopes to build a diverse and inclusive community by empowering aspiring athletes to reach their full potential in the sport and pushes for the development of rugby in the Philippines.

“With the Mavericks Club, the achievement of the ladies becomes a motivation for our men’s team, as well,” adds Dela Cruz.

She also shares a message for women and children who want to get into sports: “The first thing you have to do is try because you will not know if a certain sport fits you unless you take a chance. Rugby is often depicted as a hard contact sport, but it’s actually a sport for everybody. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, as long as you’re willing to try and train, you can do anything.”

“What’s empowering about playing rugby, or any sports, are the values that it imparts to players—it’s something that you carry with you for life outside of the sport itself. We are proud to represent the Philippines in tournaments, but we’re even prouder of our sisterhood. Here we look after one another,” says Sales.

“There’s a saying that champions do extra, so we work hard to be outstanding for the team,” concludes Tudoc.

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Introvert, wanderer, blogger, foodie, a hip-hop music writer, and one of the co-founders of a tech start-up company called GigsManila.