Lovelace is one of many Life graduates transitioning to Atlanta / Photo: Meredith Nelson, MEAN Photography
The Atlanta Harlequins and Life University have always supported each other – supplying and sharing staff, facilities, competition – and now the Women’s Premier League (WPL) is reaping the benefits as well. In spring 2018, Life graduated its first four-year class and those who decided to move directly into the highest level of domestic club rugby enjoyed the comfort of transitioningto a familiar team.
The segue is also smoothed by the shared coaching staff: By day, Ros Chou is Life University head coach and Kitt Ruiz is the Running Eagles’ assistant coach. By night, the roles are reversed for Atlanta practices.
“Ros and I work very well together. It’s great having her technical and tactical knowledge to really propel the team forward,” Ruiz explained as Atlanta head coach. “While technically Ros is the backs coach and I am the forwards coach, I believe that we will truly collaborate on all aspects of the game.”
Life graduates find familiarity in their next team, but also consistency in teachings and can take the natural next steps in their growth as rugby players. Darian Lovelace is just one such example of a player who banked the formative years of her rugby education in Marietta, sampled the WPL senior year with a waiver, and then officially joined Atlanta after graduating in the spring. The former Life captain played No. 8 last Saturday against Twin Cities and was named field captain for the outing.
“Coach Kitt does a really good job of realizing what we need,” Lovelace said. “We have a different field captain for each game, and it depends on what is tactically best for the team. … That decision is made during the week leading up to the game, so anyone can step up and be chosen.”
Lovelace confessed that she was nervous about leading players who had twice as much experience as she did, but as coach Ruiz noted, the returners are all about folding the collegians into the Quins system. That support helped Lovelace settle into her role, and the teams overcame a relentless opponent, one that pushed the entire 80 minutes and scored the final try of the game. Atlanta recorded a 53-10 win, its first against the Amazons in the WPL.
“The veteran players were really proud of the club as a whole and how well the team did in terms of adapting and being able to pick each other up and work with a brand new group,” Lovelace said.
There’s a bit more experience in Atlanta’s pack this year, and in the backs, Mo Compito is the resident leader. Saturday’s lineup featured current Kennesaw State senior Akilah Guzman at scrumhalf and 25-year-old flyhalf Lara Gartner, who debuted in the 2014 WPL season while in grad school at Georgia Tech (where Chou served as head coach before heading to Life University). Spring 2018 graduates Kaitlyn Broughton (Life) and Cortney Kuehl (UCF) are finally playing beside each other in the centers, instead of facing each other down akin to the past couple years of collegiate playoffs. Life grad Christina Swift and WPL debutante Chi Chi Chukwueke (Georgia Tech) finished off scoring opportunities from the wing, and the reserves included Penn State grad Corinne Heavner, who is attending grad school at Life, and Kuehl’s UCF co-captain, Julia Philips.
“We’re still trying out new combinations and figuring out what works best against certain opposition,” Lovelace said. “We’ve been building off the last two weeks and we’re starting to find our niche and really play off each other.”
There are more Life alumnae and youth on Atlanta’s roster, and the Quins also field a DII team, which will continue to ready aspiring athletes for the WPL. The collaboration continues this weekend, as Life University hosts Life West for a friendly, and then Atlanta, which has a bye from the WPL, will scrimmage the west coast Gladiatrix as well.
WPL #AtlantaHarlequins #DarianLovelace