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Top 10 #6: A Well Informed Way to the Eagles

  • 18 Dec 2018

Henrich prior to New Zealand in Chicago / Photo: Max Haynes (

Can you imagine being 18 years old and earning your first cap against the reigning Women’s Rugby World Cup champion? And then a week after playing New Zealand, you face the No. 2 team in the world, England? That incredible reality belongs to Emily Henrich, the youngest member of the Eagles’ November tour and apt representative for this generation of rugby players. Tracking her pathway to the USA National Team is an education in opportunity, direction and perspective.

For teenagers, it’s not about the right teams or the right camp – it’s about informed guidance. Henrich is an Eagle for her hard work and talent, but the pathway to the national team isn’t so well trodden as to prevent hard choices, and high school players need perspective. They need someone who can view opportunities in the larger rugby, and life, scheme so values like responsibility and commitment aren’t compromised.

Photo: Jackie Finlan

There are a few things that are unique about Henrich’s upbringing. Both parents played  rugby at Dartmouth College. Lisa Henrich continued to play club and reared her three children in and around the sport. Emily and Lisa have played beside each other, both wearing Atlantis teal at the 2014 New York 7s.

Henrich didn’t specialize in rugby. She played basketball and soccer for her high school, Orchard Park, and has also played football and skied competitively. She plays the harp and regularly performed with the All-County and regional All-State orchestras. Henrich made it to the national competition for DECA all four years of high school.

Atlantis U16s in Vegas / Photo: Dave Barpal

And yet, she played so much rugby, year round. Part of that is location. Living in the Buffalo area, the Henrichs have access to the more challenging Ontario rugby during Western New York’s offseason – again, a path first walked by mom. Similar scenarios exist in the Pacific Northwest, where Americans can benefit from the stronger B.C. leagues. These experiences quickly educate players that there is a bigger rugby world out there – a sentiment often expressed by first-time NIT teams or age-grade camp newcomers.

Henrich with Scion / Photo: Colleen McCloskey

Henrich played select side ball, too. She was a founding member of Atlantis’ U16 team, and as the years progressed, senior opportunities arose with National Development Academies. Most recently she repped Scion at New York 7s and in Barbados – that is, after the Dartmouth College season ended, with a NIRA national championship.

But today, those aren’t the main selection venues for high school players into the age-grade pathway. USA Rugby emphasizes high-profile events like the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and the Regional Cup Tournaments (RCTs). Orchard Park, coached by mom, started attended NITs in 2017 and 2018, and Western New York fields a healthy all-star program for Buffalo-area athletes. It was through the Lightning that Henrich entered the system. She attended her first High School All-American camp in 9th grade after a good showing at the Pittsburgh RCT.

High School All-Americans East / Photo: Dave Ramage

But what happens once a high schooler is identified? Opportunities at the All-American level can evolve well after one’s calendar has been set and other commitments made. A common occurrence: A select side names its travel squad to a notable 7s tournament, and then All-American camp invites go out two months prior to the fixture, and half the team bails. Henrich has had to make those choices between various sports, missing out on a chance to play in France with Atlantis and instead honoring a commitment to a UNC soccer camp with her high school team. She missed out on two of four LVI 7s trips because they conflicted with basketball regionals.

Fortunately USA Rugby knows these conflicts exist, and staffers like Emilie Bydwell and Martha Daines aren’t going to cross a kid’s name off the list for one missed assembly. But again, a high schooler needs that perspective.

Dartmouth freshman Henrich / Photo: Diane Ramage

“Reflecting back on Em’s pathway, we spent a fair amount of time debating certain choices. There weren’t really any people who I could consult since this was all so new,” Lisa Henrich explained. “We agreed that it is a huge relief that putting other team commitments first on occasion didn’t hinder her overall rugby path. … I think the pathway coaches appreciated that she was honoring TEAM commitments and was developing her overall athleticism by attending these events.”

Today, we can tightly summarize Henrich’s path to the Eagles: Started early with touch rugby in U.S. and Canada; led Orchard Park HS to state championships and NIT; played all-star and select side ball with Western New York, Niagara (ON), Atlantis, NDAs; represented the High School and Junior All-American teams; enrolled at a NCAA varsity program, Dartmouth, and started at inside center during national championship run.

Photo: Max Haynes (

In between all of those benchmarks was a voracious search for information, trying to understand the ever-changing landscape of rugby in the U.S., so the right choices were made and the right values were promoted.

Henrich is now home in New York for winter break, and on Monday returned to her elementary school, Windom Elementary, to help teach rugby in all of the PE classes. She told the kids about her pathway to the USA Eagles and that it all started with flag rugby at the same school.

#USAWomen15s #EmilyHenrich Dartmouth #OrchardPark #201819Top10

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