Suzi Dillon coached North Central High School Girls Rugby for 20 years. Over that time her team compiled a record of 11 state championships, 5 state runner-up titles, 15 divisional championships, and 9 undefeated seasons. Like many great coaches, Suzi was wholly committed to her players and while her talents could have taken her to college and club coaching, Suzi built a high school and middle school dynasty.
Suzi recently retired, handing the program over to a former player and current coach, but her impact on Indiana rugby, on high school girls' rugby, is immense.
Where do you live:
IT Management at Pharma company (22 years)
Tell us a bit about your playing days (Where, how long, positions, etc):
I played for Indiana University, for 4 years at inside center. After graduating I played for Indianapolis Women for 10 years [at] inside/outside center, wing, and scrumhalf.
How did you get into coaching?
When I played for IU, a group of us from the team would coach the local high school team. When I moved to Indy, the boys’ coach at North Central (NC) High School approached the women’s team I was playing for because a girl at NCHS wanted to start a team. I said “sure, I’ll help”….didn’t realize I would be THE coach and it would turn into a 20-year adventure!
Team(s) you coach(ed) and why it’s great to coach them:
I co-coached the Bloomington High School girls for a couple years with my IU teammates. I started and coached the NC High School girls' team as head coach for 20 years. I started and coached the Washington Township Middle School girls' team (made up of girls from the three middle school teams that matriculate to NCHS).
I’ve always felt honored to coach at NC for so many reasons. We are not a private school with resources, but we keep our dues low and save money where we can (I use the same jerseys year after year, and we have a ‘potluck’ for our end-of-season banquet). The NCHS girls' team was always the most diverse in the state of Indiana. The players were/are Hispanic, Asian, black, white, Indian, and everyone in between. The girls mixed and mingled like they were all family. They would fight hard together on the pitch and never let me down when it came to displaying good sportsmanship. I was fortunate to have supportive Athletic Directors (Chuck Jones, Paul Loggan, and Anita Walther). The rugby team was recognized as a school club but the athletic department allowed us to use the grounds for practice, the buses for away games, and awarded the girls varsity letters and jackets for playing. They even hung our championship years on the front of the school and in the main gym. We felt very loved and supported!
What do/did you love about coaching?
My favorite thing about coaching was leveraging the sport as a platform to teach confidence, respect, life lessons, good sportsmanship, good nutrition, self-care, and so many other things that are vital for young women. We had a ‘topic of the week’ each week (e.g. "what does it mean to be a leader?", do something outside of your comfort zone, learn a new fun fact about a relative, write a thank you note to someone, suicide prevention awareness, etc). Sometimes it was a topic to reflect on, sometimes it was an action they had to take. We would talk about it on Friday, reflecting as a team together on what they learned. I also started doing “a moment of zen” each Wednesday at the end of practice. I taught players one breathing exercise and one Yin pose each week. I was shocked how much they loved it! Part of me thought they just liked not running for 5 minutes, but they also told me how they used what I taught them to calm down during stressful times.
I tried coaching the summer all-star team and found I hated it. There was no time for individual or team development, no time for growth. That experience helped me see that encouraging growth is what I loved about coaching; helping the girls find real friends and find their best selves.
What was most challenging for you as a coach?
My polite, light-hearted answer is the cold weather! I learned to become an expert at layering.
The less polite response is 1) Dealing with male egos. Placating men was annoying but it also motivated me. 2) I have also found that the increased “bubble wrapping” of children physically and mentally in the last 5-7 years has become a significant coaching challenge.
You've coached some good players - what's it like to see them grow?
I’ve coached many good players – strong athletes, super smart and driven women, compassionate, loving individuals. It’s been everything to me to see them grow. It is the whole reason I kept coaching. One thing that has been incredibly rewarding is to see them come back after college and give back to the rugby community. Many have become coaches, referees, and local rugby board members. The best moments for me as a coach were when I heard the following:
You taught my daughter confidence
My daughter now has friends
Coach, you saved my life
I get teary-eyed when I think about those moments.
You coached for many years - what has been most surprising to you about the evolution of women's rugby?
I am surprised and dismayed by the lack of growth. We have the same number of high school girls' teams in Indiana now as we did 20 years ago. On the bright side, we have more middle school teams.
What's the difference between coaching middle and high school girls' rugby?
There is a huge difference between the attention span of high school and middle school girls. I could coach 80 high school girls more easily and with less energy than 8 middle school girls.
How did COVID impact your team?
2020 was to be my last year coaching. I had coached many of the 2020 seniors in middle school and wanted to see them through high school graduation. NC girls won the 2019 state championship and I was sure that we were bound for another great year. So, it was incredibly heartbreaking to see that season cut short for those seniors. Even more heartbreaking, we lost our long-time friend and Athletic Director, Paul Loggan, to COVID in April 2020.
Tell us about your 'non-rugby' life. What's something people would be surprised to know about you?
I love trail running, hiking, traveling, reading, and animals. I would imagine folks might be surprised to know that I also love salsa dancing.
Finally, while I am hanging up the whistle, I’m so thrilled to see my former players leading the middle school and high school teams and carrying on the tradition of NC excellence. [In] Spring 2021, coach Kat had a great season with the middle school girls and coach Jaz brought home a state runner-up with the high school girls.