The first time Joanna Alphonso stepped onto the rugby field, she had no idea how to play the game—but she knew she liked it.
"My first memory of rugby was my very first game," said Alphonso. "It was an exhibition game against a team in our region. I had no clue about the rules of rugby. My coach just told me to get the ball and run."
The Ajax, Ont. native would have never guessed that just three years later, she would be one of the only rookies on the field in the game that won her university team—the StFX X-Women—a CIS national championship.
Alphonso began her athletic career as a basketball player. Her passion for basketball was so strong she was unwilling to give it up in ninth grade when her future rugby coach, Coach Sadowski, began begging her to play rugby.
She gave in the following year and started playing for Pickering High School, and for a club team—the Toronto Scottish Rugby Football Club.
By 11th grade, Alphonso had said goodbye to her first love, basketball, entirely and fully embraced rugby.
"After my first season playing rugby, Sara Kaljuvee—a member of the Canada rugby sevens team and, at the time, part of the StFX women’s rugby team—firmly told me I was going to StFX when I graduated high school," said Alphonso. "I thought she was crazy. It was way too far from home. But, here I am. The StFX community and culture was so strong that it felt just like home."
She was named AUS rookie of the year in her 2014 inaugural season with the X-Women, and followed that up with back-to-back conference MVP nods in 2015 and 2016. She was also named a first team CIS (now U Sports) all-Canadian in her past two seasons.
Alphonso was named a 2016 CIS championship all-star as the X-Women made their way to their fifth national title this past season—the second time she's been able to call herself a national champion.
Her try in the second half stood as the game winner for StFX.