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Trudging through the dew-soaked grass, heads down, surrounded by teammates during a scrum may bring about an image of fully grown, muscle-heavy men on a rugby field.

But the image in Shannon Steele's mind paints a different picture.

"I've had more than my fair share of scrapes, scratches and bruises, but I'm usually proud of them," said Steele, who spent five years as a member of the Women's Rugby Club at UCF before graduating in May. "[They] prove that I play rough and play through pain and that I made a difference.

"I actually feel weird during the off-season when I don't have bruises."

While members of the team, which has competed in Division I of USA College Rugby since 2000, may exert their toughness through battle wounds, they believe the mostly male-dominated sport is no picnic, but it's where they want to spend their afternoons.

"It definitely makes me angry when people act like women can't play rough sports," said Steele, who earned a bachelor's degree in pre-clinical health sciences. "I'm also a bit of a showoff, so if I do encounter someone who doesn't think women can play rough sports, I show them pictures of me playing, bruises I've had and even some of the elite teams I've played for, just to give me some credibility."

Men's and women's rugby are played by the same book of rules, and the two contain the same style of play demanded by the heavily physical English sport.

"Personally, I think rule differences between genders are biased," Steele said. "If rugby isn't proof that women can play the same way as men, then I don't know what is."

There's no pads, no mercy and no fear for the women who compete.

"If you go 100 percent and be aggressive, you are going to hurt someone more than they are going to hurt you," said Agnes Furst, a junior history and sport science major and member of the team.

Severe injuries are not uncommon, but they don't deter Furst or her former teammate from advancing the ball up the field, avoiding tackles and getting the ball across the tryzone, which is the equivalent to an end zone in football.

"You can get injured in a lot of sports and everything you do," she said. "I get a lot of bruises but you get kind of used to it and kind of happy to show them off."

Furst has not sustained any substantial injuries over her one-year career, but Steele, who began playing eight years ago after being cut from her Jupiter-area high school basketball team, has not been as lucky.

She had knee surgery last week to repair an ACL tear that occurred about two years ago.

"I was really stubborn and continued to play on it because I didn't want to sit out my last eligible year with UCF," she said. "Rugby may be daunting to a lot of people, but honestly the best way to avoid injury is to play as hard as you can, even if you don't know exactly what you're doing."

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Bridgette Norris is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @blogginbridge or email her at BridgetteN@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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