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Coach of the Month: Nancy Kechner

Where do you live:

Charlottesville, VA


Research and Software Support Specialist, University of Virginia

Tell us a bit about your playing days:

I transferred to the University of Virginia in 1980. At that time, the team was made up of students and community folks, and they were pretty good. We were coached by Lance van de Castle, who was a great coach, and quite a character. I played my first year at flanker, but when our very good hooker graduated, I moved to hooker. I played squash growing up, so I was pretty quick. I also lifted weights like it was my job. I moved to flyhalf after a couple years, and really enjoyed that position. I will say, however, that I scored more at hooker than I ever did in the backs.

Nancy Kechner at UVA, front row behind the ball

How did you get into coaching?

Eventually the community members retired to do other things, and Lance retired from coaching. I majored in kinesiology, and had a background in motor learning, sports psych, and other coach related skills and knowledge. I just sort of slid into coaching and learned more every year. In 1988, I moved to Philly and learned a lot from Joe Kelly. I started coaching Princeton and playing for Monmouth. At Monmouth, I was mentored by Paule Barford, Lance Connelly, and Joe Grohovski. Ann Barford was the Monmouth captain, and she was inspirational. After I earned my Ph.D. in physiology, I moved back to Charlottesville, and took over the team from Chris Graziano, who is now the coach at College of Charleston. I then met and got to work with Pete Steinberg, who taught me so much of what I know now.

Team(s) you coach(ed) and why it’s great to coach them:

Monmouth Women: This was my ‘heart team’. I still have many good friends from the team, and I treasure the time I had with them. They always played their hearts out and had a great time off the pitch.

University of Virginia Women: What can I say? These are my people… I love coaching here. The kids are super smart, and don’t take themselves too seriously. They play with the heart of a lion, are supportive of each other during school and for years afterwards. They behave more like a family than a sports group. They make me feel valued, we laugh together, and I can say that I get more from them than they get from me.

What do you love about coaching?

I love interacting with the players. I love watching them start to believe in their strength and abilities. I love creating a culture where young women feel safe enough to fail before they improve. I love watching them use the skills you taught them. I love mentoring the players and instilling a love for the greatest sport on earth. There’s a group of my alums that do Zoom sessions every Thursday. Members range from the Class of ’00 through ’09. While they may not have all played together, they are all family, even though they’re now living all over the world. I’m proud that I had a part in creating a group of successful women who still feel for each other, even as they have families and real world lives.

What’s most challenging for you as a coach?

Keeping an even keel. I’m pretty fiery, but it’s important for me to act rationally so the team stays even keeled. You need to act like you’ve been there before. That is, that when you score a big win, or score an incredible try, don’t go overboard. Act like you’re going to have another great game, and more great scores. Oh, and make sure the teams respect and honor each other and the game.

You've coached some pretty famous players - what's it like to see them grow into stars?

I guess I have. I met Jamie Burke when she was a first year. She was awesome as a player, but something of a lunkhead as a person. She took a semester off to travel Scotland, and came back a transformed and incredible human. I’ve been so proud of how she developed into the rugby force she is, and also of her relationships with her kids, and Monica. JJ is one of the warmest people I know, and would do anything for you. Her drive to succeed, and then to give back, is remarkable. I’m thrilled to have been a part of her success.

I also coached Summer Harris-Jones. Summer is like a little sister to me. I’m really proud of her development, and that she is ‘beastly’. She would come over and walk my dogs with me on Sundays and stay for brunch and studying. I really got to know Summer through that. I will say, however, that she is the worst at keeping in touch! Our birthdays are 1 day apart, and I might hear from her!

You've coached for many years - what has been most surprising to you about the evolution of women's rugby?

How professional it’s gotten. When I played (back in the day…) very few cared about their fitness level. It was a lot about social interaction, but resources for developing players and a game plan weren’t readily available. There’s a path to the USWNT and high-performance incentives now. The coaches are trained. The players are better and better athletes. Teams are playing at elite levels. The sport is no longer a fringe sport.

Tell us about your 'non-rugby' life? What's something people would be surprised to know about you?

Most of my life is in 1 of 3 interests: rugby, cooking, and dogs. The rugby you know about. I’ve cooked professionally for many years and still continue with a great catering company. I cook team dinner on Fridays before home games with my Kitchen Crew. And the food is good!

I had Rottweilers for 16 years, from 1990-2006. After Bunny, my heart Rottie died, I became interested in Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs. Most breeders had a waiting list, but after doing my EIGHT-page application, a breeder 45 miles away said she had the Harry Potter litter on the ground. In my application, I stated that I wanted a ‘pet quality’ female. She had none left but wanted me to meet the puppies. I drove up to meet the puppies and a tall woman came out of the house and said: “Colleen Robson. I played rugby at Tech with my first husband!” Thank God for rugby! She talked me into co-owning the male show pick with her. This was Sirius, my first Swissy and a show dog. Sirius’s sister, Luna, stayed with Colleen. When she had her first litter, I got a puppy. This puppy became George (George Bailey’s Irish Crème). George was huge, sweet, gorgeous, and was successful in both weight pull, and conformation. He won the National Specialty in 2011, won AKC Champion Best of Breed 2011, and won the breed at Westminster in 2012! When he retired, he and I became a therapy dog team at UVa Hospital. He was a phenomenal therapy dog, and I miss him every day. I do, however, have Teddy, his grandson.

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