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Awards: Club Coach of the Year

  • 14 Jun 2016

North Shore’s player-coaches Pheil (left) and Trout /// Photo: Brittany Biedenbender


Of all the paths a team can take to a national final, none contrasted as starkly as those that led to the DI club championship. Prior to the national quarterfinals, Seattle had contested two full league seasons in the British Columbia Rugby Union, while Chicago North Shore advanced after a six-game regular season spread over the fall and spring. What distinguishes North Shore, however, is that the team nearly achieved a DI title behind player-coaches, who are rightfully deemed our Club Coaches of the Year.


North Shore’s coaching situation wasn’t settled at the onset of the fall portion of the season, but the responsibilities eventually fell to captains Christiane Pheil (who was recently named to the Super Series roster) and flyhalf Lauren Trout.


“We knew pretty early on that we were going to be a player-led team this season,” Pheil explained. “Once the season began, we fully committed to the fact in order to build out a week-by-week program, taking us through the different phases of the game. We knew that if we brought anyone on halfway through, it could interrupt the season-long development plan and rattle the tactical and cultural aspects of North Shore.”


Selectors Lizzy Bristow and Noby Takaki played a big part in building culture, player development, match selection and assisting at practices. The team itself was very supportive of its player-coaches, who had to grow into their roles and adjust with the stages of the season.


“Leading into the playoff season was absolutely a test of our juggling skills between preparing for an increase in level of play, organizing and running practices, optimizing selections and sub rotations, and building on the team culture as each of those intensified,” Pheil detailed.


“I often joked that rugby had become a second job,” Trout added. “Not only were we in charge of organizing practice, but we also were giving player feedback, watching film, and planning team-bonding activities. The captains and selectors worked together to provide detailed individual feedback to every player on the team. It meant a lot of late nights and work hours spent on rugby.”


The rewards were first realized in Pittsburgh during the DI national Round of 8, when North Shore exacted revenge on Beantown and held off Raleigh to earn a final’s berth in Glendale, Colo.


“Every member of the team hit their potential in Pittsburgh,” Pheil relished. “That’s when it all began to click and the season-long plan showed signs of success. Between Pittsburgh and Denver, it came down to the little things. Minor improvements on our pattern and small adjustments to our strategy. It was two weeks of 1% improvements.”


Experience played a big role in the DI national final. Seattle had advanced to the BC Premier semifinals weeks prior and showed better composure in the high-pressure game. North Shore skewed young and few players had competed in a game of that magnitude, and that imbalance showed itself early on.


“Our biggest issue in the final was the penalties in the first half,” Trout assessed North Shore’s performance. “We gave up a lot of ground that resulted in points in the first half. We also struggled to find our rhythm because of our high penalty count. Once we were able to bring those down in the second half we began to make some headway, and started to shift momentum in our favor. Unfortunately, a few errors resulted in tries for Seattle, and we were unable to overcome the deficit.”


Despite the 36-19 loss, Pheil and Trout could only express pride in their team. To take a player-coached team to a national final is a special achievement.


“I could not be prouder of our team’s heart. We never gave up, and we definitely put on a show,” Trout concluded. “We have a taste of what that feels like now, and I’m excited for what next year has to bring.”


“All in all, I have to hand it to the girls for embracing our coachless-ness, and taking development, culture, and our overall success into their own hands,” Pheil added. “While Trout and I led the charge, it was everyone buying in that made it work.”


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