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November 2021 Coach of the Month: Mariah Kalapu

Age: 34

Where did you grow up?

American Samoa. In 2001 my mom remarried and we moved to Memphis. It was my first time off the Island.

Where did you go to college? Did you play rugby?

I attended the University of Memphis from 2009-2020. I had a career as a medical device salesperson at the time I started college, so I was a non-traditional student, taking only 1-2 courses per semester. I stumbled upon the Memphis Women’s senior club in the fall of 2015 while I was leaving an evening class and I’ve played for them ever since.

Where do you currently live?

Memphis, TN


Youth/HS coach for Memphis Inner City Rugby (MICR)

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

Freedom Prep Academy HS girls.

How did you get into coaching?

I was asked to come out by a fellow teammate on the Memphis Women’s Rugby Club who was coaching another high school girls’ team back in 2016 and I haven’t looked back!

What do you love about it?

I love how they are able to find out so much about themselves through the camaraderie of the sport and it’s beautiful to watch them grow into unique individuals as they go on to college and beyond. Their ability to be self-aware and embrace a culture of error with one another sets them up to be these empathetic and strong young adults that are light years ahead of us when we were that age.

What’s most challenging for you as a young coach?

I’m glad 34 is still young, lol. The most challenging and most rewarding part of being a coach is the relationships that are formed with the players off the pitch. Building trust with them has allowed me to empathize so much on their why. Most chose to play rugby to take out their frustrations in healthier ways on the pitch, to prove to others wrong who have told them that girls aren’t strong or capable of playing a contact sport, to find new friends cuz it’s hard to do so elsewhere, etc.

Individuals who’ve had a big impact on your coaching career:

Coach Bryan Colbridge is a great mentor that has helped me understand how much team culture is vital in bringing a team together. Bryan Colbridge is the head coach for the new men’s and women’s college programs at Christian Brothers University. Previously he coached the Memphis Men’s senior club the HS girls’ team at MICR. Heidi Whitman and Katie Ball were my first coaching mentors and they helped me learn how to empower the players to become leaders in all aspects of their lives.

Other rugby involvement?

I am the president of the Memphis Women’s Rugby Club, secretary of the senior club True South Union.

Areas of the game where you see advancement or concern? I love how much emphasis is being put on youth rugby right here in my city! To be able to see how MICR continues to bridge the opportunity gap between rugby and our BIPOC communities is something special. The way these young ones are simply made for this game and now that they have the opportunity to showcase that, there’s nothing like it right now for me.

Your most sage coaching advice: value your players as human beings first! Watch them grow immensely because they know that you see and hear them.

Tell us something 'non-rugby related' about yourself: I am an Aunty first, coach second. My nieces and nephews as well as my players are all the kids I’ll ever need!

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