It is a dark and stormy night—6 p.m. on a Thursday in December, and the rain is coming down harder than it has in a long time. Still, the uninspiring weather does not stop senior Sabrina Kim from laughing and smiling as she gets in the car to head to the BART station that will take her to rugby practice with two of her teammates.
For the whole commute, the conversation is easy and lighthearted. While waiting for the train that takes them to Lafayette, Kim talks to her teammates about injuries, cracks jokes about black eyes and bandages and broken collarbones. Another teammate picks them up from the Lafayette BART stop and drives them the rest of the way.
Kim remains lighthearted on the field, but launches quickly into practice mode. She is a senior team captain this year.
“I feel like [being a captain] is really fitting for her,” said junior Kai Daffner, one of Kim’s teammates and closest friends.“Sabrina is a really good leader. She’s really good at being supportive of people, but also really good at pushing people a little bit harder and a little bit further.”
Kim said rugby has given her a lot of those skills.
“Before I started playing rugby, I wasn’t shy but I didn’t really stand up for myself,” Kim said. “I was kind of a pushover, in some ways. I hated confrontation. Couldn’t do that at all. But now, I just feel like I’m a lot more sure of myself. Because I’ve seen the things that I can put up with physically, and also mentally.”
Kim joined the Pleasanton Lady Cavaliers Rugby Club in her sophomore year of high school, after being invited to watch a practice by a trainer who worked for her brother’s rugby team.
“She’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” said Lady Cavs head coach Stephen Lopez. “She’s tenacious. She’s very aggressive. As far as how she runs and how she defends, she’s an intelligent player. She’s fearless on defense. She’s vocal. She’s a leader as far as her play on the field.”
Kim is aggressive on the field and confident off it, and that comes on top of her easygoing attitude, Daffner said.
“Just from knowing her, just from meeting her, she’s a really happy, positive person,” Daffner said. “She just comes off in a really warm way, and a really approachable way. So much positivity. I feel like that’s the perfect word. But I think if I just saw her on the street—I don’t think people see how tough she is. She works hard for everything she gets.”
Kim recently committed to Harvard University, and will be playing for their women’s rugby team when she enrolls as a freshman next year. She worked for it—and being not only hardworking but also tough is incredibly important to her, Kim said.
“I like bringing people into rugby and seeing how they react to it,” Kim said. “I think a lot of people pretend to be tough, in life, and you bring them onto the rugby field and they just can’t touch anyone, or they can’t get dirty, or they can’t roll around in the mud…I think it’s such a cool thing to see someone who really is willing to put themselves out there. And rugby’s the true test of that.”
Kim feels that she has taken much of what she learns on the field—from her coaches, from her teammates, from play—into her day-to-day life.
“In the first few months I was playing, I didn’t want to tackle,” Kim said. “Because I was always a runner, and when I played volleyball there was no contact at all. I just wasn’t confident enough to do it. And then one of my coaches pulled me aside. He said, ‘It’s gonna hurt you more to go into a tackle soft than it would if you run just as hard as the other person’s running at you.’ And that’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten, on the field or off it. When you’re confronted with a problem, you run into it. And you can’t be scared.”