Female Athletes Representing SCU

When students talk about Santa Clara Athletics, many of them reference the school’s all-time greatest claim to fame: Steve Nash. That being said, when considering Santa Clara’s famous athletic alumni, the list is incomplete without players like Julie Johnston, a soccer player who graduated in 2014. After her time at Santa Clara, Johnston went on to play for the 2015 champion world cup team, and the 2016 Olympic team. Johnston is just one on a long list of incredible female athletes that are a part of Santa Clara’s athletic legacy. Of course, for athletes, it isn’t always about the win – it’s about the obstacles you face in order to get there. For female student athletes on campus, these obstacles are part of a daily workload they must face in order to triumph.

Mara Dominguez is a sophomore on the women’s water polo team. Growing up in Davis, CA, where she was first exposed to the sport, Mara started playing at the age of seven. “Water polo grew to be popular while I was growing up,” she said. “I started out swimming when I was five, and then when I was a little older the UC Davis water polo coach started the Davis water polo club team. Davis is small enough that my parents heard about it, put me on the team, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

Her commitment to athletics, which she describes as ultimately rewarding, is one that requires careful management of her workload. “When you leave for tournaments and miss class, that can be really difficult,” she said. “Some classes are recorded, which is awesome, but others aren’t, and when you’re trying to figure everything out from just the notes, it can throw you off. Office hours are obviously helpful, too, but sometimes it’s just not the same.”

Bevin McCullough, a sophomore who runs cross country for Santa Clara, felt similarly about the challenges presented by being a student athlete. “Time is the most difficult thing about being an athlete. Or lack of time, that is. It can be hectic trying to organize my sleep schedule, combined with school and everything else,” she said. “Dealing with injury, too – that’s probably one of the hardest things. It’s really mental, especially with recovery.”

As a female runner, there are specific challenges to her health that Bevin is careful to try and prevent. “It’s more common for female runners to be anemic, and that was a huge issue in high school for me. I got mono and anemia at the same time, and my health just plummeted. It took months to heal completely,” she said. “Because women have their periods, they’re more prone to lose iron. All the girls on my team take iron supplements.”

Junior Marisa Rudolph, another member of Santa Clara’s cross-country and track teams, said that another obstacle female athletes commonly struggle with is eating disorders. “Eating disorders are really prevalent on a lot of teams. I think it’s an issue a lot of female athletes deal with, just because of different types of body shaming and things like that,” she said. “I think in particular with running, there’s very much an idea that you have to look a certain way to run fast, but in reality there tends to be a very small collection of athletes that actually look that way.”

Another challenge specific to female athletes can be an uncertain future – at least in terms of continuing on to play professionally. Duffy Moyer, who is a sophomore on the women’s soccer team, says that she finds the pay gap between the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) discouraging. “The players on those women’s teams barely get paid. The actual money you can pocket from playing professionally is very low compared to the MLS. If you were a female player who wanted to continue with soccer after college, you’d probably want to go overseas,” she said. “I think also in terms of support, female teams tend to garner less than men’s. But actually, at Santa Clara, the women’s team definitely gets more support than the men do, I think because overall we do fairly better.”

Junior Grace Anne D’Amico, a coxswain for the men’s rowing team, finds that there are definite differences between men’s and women’s teams. “In my experience, you can be a little bit meaner with men. Even if you’re harsh with them, they’ll buckle down and do what you tell them,” she said. “But being one of the only women on a men’s team can be difficult. I struggled with it a little in the beginning, because they do direct a lot of comments toward you, and a lot of them were derogatory.”

Grace says that as she’s continued coxing, she’s felt more respected and included by the team. “I think just like any other member, the more time I spent with them, the more they respected me, and now I can mess around with them, too,” she said. “I love just being on the team and having something to add and contribute, especially when we do find success. When I do my job well, I feel like I’m part of a bigger picture.”

Mara, too, said that being on a team at Santa Clara has been a positive experience for her. “A lot of athletes know each other, so it’s kind of like a team within a team. This year, too, our team is really close, which is so nice,” she said. “Water polo isn’t a big spectator sport here, but when people congratulate me on a game and give me that extra support, that’s really cool.”

Duffy shared the same sentiment. “It’s like my own sorority that I have, and coming in freshman year I had automatic friends,” she said. “In that sense, it’s nice being part of something, and having 30 best friends I can always talk to or hang out with.”