SUNY Cortland was the surprise of a surprising college season going undefeated and making the finals of National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) Small College National Championship. While SUNY Cortland fell to Wayne State College of Nebraska in the finals that doesn’t diminish the tremendous job done by the SUNY players and coaches. We start off this year by recognizing the two coaches who brought SUNY from mediocre to the national finals.
Where do you currently live?
Ashley: Rochester, NY
Natalie: Cortland, New York
Ashley: Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Clinical Education for the Master’s in Athletic Training Program
Natalie: Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Education at SUNY Cortland
Teams you coach and why it's great to coach them:
SUNY Cortland Women’s Rugby Football Club
Ashley: Fall 2021 is my first semester coaching any sport! It’s an honor to coach these incredible young players - their dedication, buy in, and passion are truly remarkable. As an alum (’13) of SUNY Cortland it’s a privilege to give back to the school, community, and team that helped to shape me into the person I am today.
Natalie: As an alum (‘17), coaching this team has a special place in my heart. Spring of 2021 was a strange COVID off-season. We were running around in masks and playing with limited contact (flag/touch), trying to teach the game to new players. This past fall, I was able to take on a full-time coaching position alongside Ashley back in a “normal” practice environment. The players are dedicated, hardworking and unique in their own way. It has been so rewarding working with them and watching their successes on and off the pitch.
How did you get into coaching?
Ashley: Coach DiMeglio and the previous coach Matt Madden had been inquiring about my interest in coaching since my return to Cortland in the spring of 2020. Initially, I was more focused on my professional transition at the institution and then the pandemic shut everything down. Late in the spring of 2021, the coaching conversation resumed and I was in a much better place to be able to commit to the team for the fall 2021 season.
Natalie: I was hired by Cortland to teach a variety of activity courses for the Physical Education Department. Coaching rugby was always in the back of my mind. The opportunity presented itself in the spring of 2021 when two of the veteran players approached me. I felt confident taking on the coaching position, as I had learned a lot from Matthew Madden who I had the opportunity to play under while at Cortland. He has been a mentor to me as I continue to coach women's sports.
How is it working together?
Ashley: Honestly, it has been great. Coach DiMeglio and I played together at SUNY Cortland so we knew each other quite well. We work together on every aspect of the game from strategies to practice plans. Coach DiMeglio focuses more on the backs and I work more closely with the forwards. We don’t always see eye to eye but our skills and knowledge complement each other well.
Natalie: We keep each other in check!
What has been most challenging about this season? Most rewarding?
Ashley: The most challenging aspect of the season was definitely all the transitions resulting from the pandemic, from trying to rebuild our numbers, fundraising, and working through the administrative requirements with our recreational sports office, National Collegiate Rugby, and etc. It’s easy to pick up the ‘on the field’ stuff, but I forget how much behind the scenes work is required to run a team. Don’t get me wrong folks were incredibly helpful throughout the process but that’s not what’s on your mind as a new coach.
The most rewarding part for me was seeing the players develop and come together as a team. It’s easy to recognize that coming in second place at Nationals (a program best) is rewarding, but that doesn’t happen unless the team comes together, trusts the process, and continually works hard to get better each day.
Natalie: We must remember the players are student athletes playing a club sport. There was so much we all had to balance and juggle, including the players’ day-to-day lives. I think the most challenging part of coaching was being there for them during those personal challenges. I have no problem directing players when they are out on the pitch but off the pitch it’s a different dynamic. You have to be willing to really listen. When players open up to me I am able to build new levels of trust and connection. That trust they have in us is a reward and allows the coach and player dynamic to develop.
When you look out over the landscape for women's rugby, what are areas of advancement or concern for you?
Ashley: We see a lot of opportunities for advancement and growth, through visibility and positivity. Seeing rugby return to the Olympics, the power of social media, and positive interactions amongst the entire rugby community is key.
Natalie: Although the sport is rapidly growing, opportunities for wome