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Pembroke supports women in sport

Pembroke has a range of fantastic sportswomen playing for the College teams and at University level. Here, we speak to just three of them:

Léonie De Jonge (2014) was part of the starting line-up for the Cambridge University Women’s Basketball Club in their Varsity match. We talked to her ahead of the big day:

Leonie‘Growing up in Luxembourg I was always a gymnast, but then I had a major growth spurt when I was about 14 and my parents suggested I should try basketball. I’d only been playing for about three weeks when I got a call from the national squad. They’d heard there was a tall girl on the court who could just about run in a straight line, so they offered me a trial – it could only happen in such a small country!

‘I still knew almost nothing about basketball but I made the team, and from then on received some really top-quality training. This meant that I was able to get a scholarship to play in the States while I did my undergraduate degree. Basketball is seen very differently there: it’s a huge deal and everybody takes an interest. For me, it really helped me to find a way of getting some balance in my life and having something else to throw my energy into aside from my work. That’s not to say that you don’t need to use your brain for basketball. In fact, it is a very tactical game and you constantly have to be aware of what is going on around you.

‘I actually decided to quit at the end of last year, but when I found myself in Cambridge to do my MPhil I thought it might be a good way of meeting new people. I’ve found that basketball is not as popular here, especially for women. Maybe you have netball to fill that gap, a sport which is not really played elsewhere in the world.

‘The Cambridge Blues team is a complete mixture of nationalities and in fact there is only one girl from England. We’re also a great mix of disciplines and colleges, although Pembroke is really well represented. There are two of us in the starting line-up for the big Varsity game next week: myself, and Michelle Quay (2013).

‘We usually train 3 or 4 times per week and play a match too, but now that Varsity is coming up there is either training or team bonding every night. The whole year builds up to this game – we’re constantly preparing out set plays and working on our strategies. In the US, the team set-up was such that you did as the coach said and never questioned it. Here, our coach is always asking for our input and suggestions.

‘We’re really excited about the Varsity match but also quite nervous. Many of the girls on the squad have not played professionally before, so they’re not used to playing in such a big arena with people watching. We’re hoping that lots of people turn up to cheer us on. Basketball is great to watch: it is a contact sport, it is very fast-paced and there are lots of tactics – everything you could want from a sport!’

Shortly before Pembroke’s women’s football team won the Plate Final, we asked Gaia Laidler (2013) about playing on the team, and about women’s sports at Pembroke:

When Ciara Scott (2013) was named as a member of the starting line-up for the Varsity match by Cambridge University Women’s Rugby Team, we caught up for a chat:

ciara‘I’ve always enjoyed playing lots of different sports, but I’ve only been playing rugby since September. I’d never played before exam term last year, when someone at Pembroke organised some touch rugby as a stress-relieving exercise. I was playing with some of the boys and really enjoying it because lots of women’s sports lack the physicality that rugby has. The President of the University Women’s Rugby Team happened to jog past and saw me playing. She invited me to come along to meet the team and then a friend encouraged me to join pre-season training in September. I was immediately hooked.

‘Those two weeks of really intensive training gave me a head start. The coaches can give you so much attention and the other girls always give you pointers too. That helps you to develop as a player. Now we train twice a week at Grange Road. We then play two matches, one against other university teams on Wednesday and one against local teams on Sunday. I also do three weight sessions a week because I play prop, where some of the other girls tend to do more running. It is such a great group of girls and it is a really social sport, so I have made loads of friends. That encourages you to push yourself more.

‘At the moment we are training for Varsity, so we’re all so nervous but also really excited. We’re hoping for a good turnout of supporters. We are part of the same club as the men’s rugby team, so they are all going to come down and cheer us on. Varsity is a huge deal, but it is not the be all and end all. To get our blue we not only have to be on the starting line-up for Varsity but we also have to win our league. I think it’s good because it means we put everything into each match. We have a match four days after Varsity and we know we’ll still have to give it our all. It creates a really good sense of team spirit.

‘Whenever I tell people I play rugby they ask me two questions. Firstly, is it contact like with men’s sport? Secondly, do we shower together after the game? You would never ask a man that. People also often comment that we must all be lesbians. It is belittling on so many levels. We want to be taken seriously as athletes. Locally, we’re quite involved with the Ospreys and with the ‘We Support Women in Sport’ campaign. We want to change the perception that sport is a men’s domain and that women just dabble in it. I do think things are changing and we have an exciting announcement coming at our Varsity match this weekend…

‘The other thing we get when we’re trying to recruit people think they are too small for rugby, but it is just not the case. If you look at the England women’s rugby team they are all lean, muscular and athletic. It is not like men’s rugby where all the players are huge. Actually, one thing I really like about rugby is that your body type means that you fit best in one particular position; there is such a diverse range of skills out there on the field. There really is a place for anyone.

‘I love rugby; it’s just such a great sport. Sometimes it feels like rugby has become my degree, but is so worth the effort and time that it takes. However bad I feel when I arrive for a training session, I always feel better when I leave. I could never give it up now.’

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