Scrumhalf Durbin (seen here with the senior Atavus All Stars in the LVI international elite division) also jumps.
Lilly Durbin is the archetype when it comes to cultivating a young talent. She drew attention as an 8th grader, when she played fullback for the best high school in the country – Fallbrook – at the national championship. She’s helped the Warriors to three of their five consecutive national titles, and has made a habit of playing above her age grade. That trend continues today, as the high school junior is the youngest-ever rugby resident at the Olympic Training Center.
In 2014, the summer after her freshman year, then 15-year-old Durbin competed with the Women’s Junior All Americans against the Canada U20s in Ontario. That September she was invited to her first 7s camp at the OTC. Former USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt was impressed, and Fallbrook teammates Durbin and Richelle Stephens (class of 2015) spent the subsequent summer training four days/week with the 7s Eagles in Chula Vista. Suggitt wanted more commitment from Durbin and she started rearranging her life to accommodate the opportunity.
“When Ric was still head coach, he told me that he wanted me to move down Chula Vista, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a resident,” Durbin recounted September 2015. “I had switched to home-school for my first semester [of junior year], and I was all set to come down for my first week of training – and then Ric got fired. So that didn’t happen.”
Replacement USA coach Julie McCoy invited Durbin to a December camp but residency wasn’t on the table. Durbin returned to Fallbrook as an on-site student and continued playing for Fallbrook, as it prepared for the club national championship. She was selected to the senior Atavus All Stars squad that competed in Las Vegas’ elite division and took on international capped athletes, some of which were twice her age.
Not long after Vegas, McCoy was released and replaced by Richie Walker. Durbin met Walker back in September 2014, when he served as Suggitt’s assistant coach. He was the Atavus All Star coach in Las Vegas and well acquainted with Durbin’s poise, advanced decision-making skills and easy speed. He invited her to another camp and then asked Durbin to start training at the OTC every other week.
“Yes, so I miss a week of school every other week until my last day on June 3,” Durbin explained. “It wasn’t really that tough to convince my school. My mom and I talked with them and explained my situation, and my teachers are really flexible and supportive. So long as I stay caught up with work, they’re OK with it.
During the transition, Durbin wasn’t entirely sure of her official status, “but then the press release went out,” the junior recalled the USA Rugby article that announced her involvement with the 7s Eagles. “That’s when it hit me: I’m a resident.”
And she’s been loving it.
“I was only here for one week, but there is definitely a drastic change from when Jules was here,” Durbin said. “It wasn’t as intense like when Ric and Richie were coaches. With Richie, I’ve learned more than I ever have. We scrimmage, watch film, take notes – we did that before with Ric, but I’m just learning a lot from Richie. He’s doing a great job.”
Durbin is grateful to have Stephens by her side. The former Fallbrook flyhalf had committed to DI Elite Lindenwood for fall 2015, but then aligned with the OTC during the final semester of her senior year of high school. Since then, she’s gone on to help the USA qualify for the Olympics and represent the Eagles at multiple World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series tournaments.
“I love Richelle. She’s my idol,” said Durbin, who will move into one of the athlete houses with Stephens this summer. “I always ask her to help me and watch me and give me feedback. I try to do everything like Richelle.”
Stephens also understands the conflict of placing 7s residency first.
“I’m really sad that I can’t play with Fallbrook anymore,” said junior Durbin, who played her last game with the Warriors at the Fullerton tournament. “I’m sad but I’m happy at the same time. It’s such an incredible opportunity and I’m so honored to be here and train with great athletes and to have Richie as a coach. But my best friends play for Fallbrook, and that’s where I learned to play. It’s hard not to play with them – especially my best friend, Kayla [Canett]. She’s a senior so this was my last chance to play with her.”
Chances are their paths will cross again. Canett is heading to Penn State in the fall, so she’ll be involved with high-level rugby and angling for more All American selections. Durbin is thinking about college, too, and at this point is open to either mimicking Stephens’ choice of staying local and taking online classes or heading off somewhere.
There are some more immediate goals, however, calling Durbin’s attention. The fifth and final World Series tournament of 2016 occurs next weekend in Paris, and Durbin wants in. The San Diego Atavus Academy players spent Monday-Wednesday at the OTC for scrimmages, and Walker used those competitions for final selections (which should be named shortly).
“I don’t think I did that well on Monday but I progressed as the week went on,” Durbin confessed. “It was my first time in contact since my concussion and hurting my shoulder, so my tackling was really off. Everything was really off because the game is so fast, especially here. It was a shocker. ‘OK, wow, I’ve got to wake up.’
“I’m still in shock,” Durbin said to being the youngest player in residency. “I’m just really honored that I’m able to be here. It’s such an incredible opportunity – I can’t even put it into words. When you start playing a sport, you look up to certain players and hope to be there someday. I still don’t think I’ve earned it. I haven’t been here very long or trained as hard as everyone else, so I’m just trying to work hard. It’s incredible that I’m here, and I’m really thankful and happy.”
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