Braedan Willis

Catalina and Gabriela Torres Vanegas, Jalen and Ashah Payson, as well as McKenzie and Alexie Pusch, are all sisters who are current members of the University of Victoria Vikes women’s rugby team. While the team consists of an excellent culture of hard work and encouragement, the sisters can’t help but feel grateful for their own special bond and support system they hold with their respective sibling.

Originally from Cali, Colombia, twins and rookies Catalina and Gabriela Torres Vanegas came to Victoria knowing very limited English. They attended Claremont Secondary school for their last two years of high school where they joined the rugby team after missing out on making the volleyball team.

“We wanted to be involved with the school,” explained Catalina. “We saw an announcement on the school website that there were players needed on the rugby team. No experience was needed so we said yes. We had no idea what the sport was since it’s not a thing in Colombia, but we just went for it.”

“The language was a barrier for us,” said Gabriela. “When we first came, we had no English skills because in Colombia it’s the subject that everybody barely passes.”

The twins find that their similar physical characteristics, as well as their matching positions, brings out their competitiveness.

“I feel that we always compete,” explained Catalina. “We always go harder on each other than with other teammates.”

“I think because we’re twins and we physically look alike we think if one of us can do something, than the other can do it better,” shared Gabriela.

Separated by just a single minute at birth, space to the Torres twins is an extraterrestrial term. They share the same groups of friends, practice together, live in the same house and attend school together. Life without the other to them is unthinkable.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t really know what my life would be like without her because she’s the one who actually pushed me to do rugby,” remarked Catalina. “If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve been way too shy to show up and my commitment would’ve been really low without her.”

Jalen and Ashah Payson, natives of Banff, Alta., have a background consisting of multiple sports. Growing up they played a variety of sports ranging from basketball, hockey, volleyball and badminton.

“You just kind of played everything,” shared Ashah. “Banff is a very small community so everybody kind of plays every sport and rugby was just one of those sports.”

Ashah, a third-year biopsychology student chose to study at the University of Victoria for its aesthetic environment and well-known rugby team. Jalen, a first-year math student was looking at different options but decided UVic was the perfect fit, consisting of an experienced rugby team and a taste of home.

“During the summer camp it was really nerve racking and scary for me,” expressed Jalen. “I didn’t know anyone, but having Ashah there really helped me meet and talk to people.”

The Payson sisters shared their appreciation for each other as something unique from the rest of their teammates.

“I think it’s really great,” said Jalen. “You have your friends and you have your team, but you always have that one person, that connection that you can always talk to and count on to be there for you. I feel like she’s always been teaching me and helping me. She knows more and she’s someone that I look up to.”

Ashah explained that she considers their relationship as easygoing, creating a balance of giving each other space, while being involved when needed.

“We never fight on or off the field,” remarked Ashah. “We are more like best friends.”

The sisters shared their overall delight with the team and expressed how having each other as teammates is undeniably valuable to help achieve their athletic goals.

“Brittany is a great coach and the team at UVic is really a lot of fun,” stated younger sister Jalen of Vikes head coach and former national team member Brittany Waters. “Ashah and I are not competitive at all. Instead, we give each other pointers during practice since we’re working towards the same goal.”

“It’s nice to see her grow up and continue to develop as a rugby player,” said Ashah. “Also just having someone who can support you if you need them. If she wasn’t part of the team, it would be like a missing piece of the puzzle.”

Sisters Alexie and McKenzie Pusch grew up in Alberta as well, hailing from St. Albert. The sport came naturally to them having been raised in a family of rugby players, including their father and younger sister. Separated by two years, first-year Alexie decided to follow in McKenzie’s footsteps by joining their high school team. After being encouraged by her sister to try just one game, Alexie was easily sparked.

“We were both in grade 10,” shared Alexie. “McKenzie started playing and then she was like you should play! At first I said no way, but she kept telling me to try one game. I ended up actually finding it really fun and that’s when we both started playing together.”

McKenzie chose to come to Victoria after formerly attending a school in Central Washington for a semester.

“I went to a school previously at Central Washington and I just had better opportunity here with Brittany coaching and she offered me a great opportunity to play,” stated McKenzie. “She also offered a position to Alexie as well, so it worked out perfectly.”

Younger sister Alexie explained her background in basketball and how it translated into rugby.

“I enjoyed basketball, but I would get super intense all the time,” Alexie shared. “I would get a lot of fouls so when I started playing rugby I realized it was a good way to channel my aggression. I also enjoyed it a lot more and being outside was a big part of it.”

The siblings stated that different families have different ways of dealing with playing the same sport. They believed that playing different positions has a big role in keeping the balance of support and competition.

“Obviously as siblings you tend to bicker so there is a little bit of that on the field but for the most part it’s great to share the pitch with her,” said McKenzie. “I recently switched positions from being a back to forward, but when we were both back’s I felt that we were on each other’s case a lot. Alexie is a better decision maker and I’m kind of just the hard hitter. Now that we play different positions, we separate a little bit and we do pretty well as a team.”

Alexie explained how she has more awareness for her sister on the field in terms of well-being and potential injuries. She also believes she holds a special place in her sisters mind with the ability to calm her emotions on the field.

“We’re more comfortable with each other,” Alexie expressed. If somebody that you know and love tells you to do something, you listen to them more and don’t get mad.”

“I’m angrier on the field,” disclosed Mackenzie. “She’s really good at telling me to calm down. If someone else were to tell me it would be a little hard to take.”

Overall, the Pusch sisters seem to thrive off each other’s honest feedback and enjoy each other’s company despite it being around-the-clock.

“We do see each other a lot and it’s hard because we share a lot of the same friend’s, but we know when to give each other space,” explained Alexie. “If we didn’t play on the same team it would be weird. I’m always looking out for her at the same time that I’m playing.”

“We make fun of each other, but it’s more about support,” said Mckenzie. “Alexie knows what I’m good at and I know what she’s good at so we try not to compete too much. It’s cool because I always have a best friend to go home with and we can always talk about practice which I think is a positive thing. Unless it has to do with chores in the house, I’ve never had any issue with her in rugby.”

Vikes head coach Waters expressed her thoughts on the siblings addition to the team.

“It’s been a really interesting dynamic,” stated Waters. “Rugby has always been a family-feeling sport. So to actually have people who are real family on the team just adds to that element.”

Considering the combination of the aggressiveness of the sport and the family aspect, Waters explained how everything has remained very civil so far. She emphasized the positive outcomes in which the sisters’ special tie with each other translates well into teamwork.

“If anything, there is a bond that they share that adds to their cohesion on the team,” Waters said. “It’s more similar across the three sisters, that inherent support for each other, love and backing each other makes them feel at ease.”

Waters was especially intrigued in the different strengths each individual player has brought to the team despite growing up together.

“In spite of being sisters and sharing similar qualities, each individual sister brings different strengths to the team which I found really interesting,” claimed Waters.