A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Today, she chats with Team USA star Sharon Blaney, who is answering from her home in Oregon .
PK: Sha, thanks for your time today!
Sha: You’re welcome Phaidra, anything for you!!
PK: How is life out in Oregon? Playing good rugby out there I hope?
Sha: Life is really great our here in Oregon, I’m starting to really settle in. The rugby out here has been a blast!
PK: Excellent. Every powerhouse rugby player has a humble beginning. Where did you get your start? How old were you at the time?
Sha: Haha so true. Well, I started playing rugby when I was in college at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts at the age of 20. Actually, that’s where my best friend and fellow Eagle Mel Denham and I met. It was a super humble beginning, one semester we had no field space for practices, and a teammate had asked a family member who lived in the area if we could practice in his side yard…. I bet he regretted that decision after his lawn took quite a beating!
PK: Do you feel that starting at that age gave you any sort of advantage in your journey to making the national team?
Sha: Hmmmm, it’s all about age isn’t it? Starting in college has pretty much been the norm for most rugby players my age, but I played for a college that didn’t really have a field, nor any support from the university, and was coached by elder players on the team and alumni. I can’t say it gave me any advantage to making the National Team. But it did introduce me to the sport I fell in love with and ignited a flame within.
PK: Can you name 3 people that were influential (albeit positive or negative) in shaping you as a player and how?
Sha: First and foremost my BFFL, Mel Denham. Like I mentioned before, we have been best friends since college and for the most part have been playing and training together ever since. She is the best support system and workout buddy a girl could ever ask for. Playing alongside someone you know so well and who is such a great student to the game is an amazing experience.
Another influential person would be my coach and mentor for many years on Beantown, Jan Rutkowski. Playing for Jan and working with her when I captained the team really molded me into the disciplined and technical rugby player that I am today. I owe a lot to her relentless style of coaching, her dedication to every practice and her devotion to teaching the maul perfectly. 😉
I am finding it hard to pick just one more person so I have to show love to the entire Beantown Club past, present and future. Sorry Phai, I know as a New York Rugby Club member you must hate all the shout outs to the Beanies. I spent much of my early rugby years bouncing around from club to club trying to find the right match. Finally, when I found myself at a Beantown practice in 2005, it was love at first sight. The discipline, the talent, the red and blue love, and the support for each other were everything I had ever wanted in a club. It was a perfect environment for me to learn, make mistakes and grow, on and off the field.
PK: No hate here sister. I have much respect for Beantown. Now, growing up did you ever think you’d oneday be an elite athlete, needless to say an elite rugby player?
Sha: Hahaha NOPE! I was a bit goofy as a child, too big and reckless for soccer, not quite in control of my body for basketball, I didn’t really like softball….
PK: When did you debut with the Eagles? What was that first cap like?
Sha: My first cap was at the CanAms in 2009, I was a reserve for the game. I was so nervous and scared and had heard all these frightening stories of everyone’s ‘first cap’, I wasn’t sure I was ready. When one of the locks went down with injury, the coach looked at me and said “Blaney, warm up” I started shaking, jumped up and tried to put my scrum cap on super-fast while attempting to run in place. Needless to say I looked like fool.
PK: How many caps are you up to now and do you have hopes of adding to that title by getting another World Cup under your belt?
Sha: 12 caps now and that is exactly the plan. I am committed to continuing on with the US team in hopes of the 2014 World Cup.
PK: I reached out to a fellow US teammate Kitt Wagner for some help with this interview. There were a number of things she wanted to know, but the most pressing was what’s up with the short shorts?
Sha: Oh Phaidra, what can I say… “I’m just giving the people what they want.”
PK: Word. Hear that Kitt?
PK: So, what’s your take on some of our US 7’s players, particularly the women, getting paid to play rugby? Do you think this pay should extend to the 15s program?
Sha: I think it’s absolutely amazing that 8 women are being chosen to get paid to play rugby, what a dream come true! I hope that one day USA Rugby will treat the women and men’s program as equals across the board. Not only is this an issue of equality, but the women I have had the pleasure to play with at this level are all amazing women who have put no less of their blood, sweat, and tears into rugby and into achieving elite level status. Why should we be less rewarded/compensated for it? I truly believe that one day it will extend to the 15’s program, but it is up to the selected 7’s players and the entire rugby community to pave the way into the hearts of Americans everywhere.
PK: You are a coach. In fact, you and Yancey Graff have led a women’s college team (Bentley University) to a national championship (2010 NSCRO D3 Championship). Any thoughts of coaching at an even more elite level US or international) down the road?
Sha: I had a great time coaching the Bentley University women. It was very rewarding and quite exciting to watch these young women athletes work so hard to make it to the championship and win by the skin of their teeth (the score was 3-0). Coaching alongside Yancy Graf was perfect, her high level 7’s experience combined with my forward experience made for a winning combination. As for my future in coaching, we’ll see, I’d much rather be playing. When the day comes to hang up my boots I think I will be ready to take on coaching once again.
PK: Where would you like to see women’s rugby in 5 years?
Sha: I hope that in 5 years rugby is offered in every high school across the country, and that colleges consider making it a varsity sport.
PK: Thanks for you time, Sha. I miss you dearly and hope to see you soon.
Sha: Holler!! Miss you too!!
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