Photo: Guilford College Quakers
Guilford College added women’s rugby as a varsity sport in June 2019 and planned to debut in the 2020 National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) Division III season. But Covid-19 derailed many of the Quakers’ plans. The pandemic brought lay-offs in summer 2020 and the team was without a head coach until November 2021. But now Jeff Horton is in charge and his presence signals a positive pivot toward rebuilding the Greensboro, N.C., program.
“Obtaining a coaching position within the NCAA is an incredible opportunity, and I am eager to embrace the challenges associated with the role,” Horton opened.
Horton started playing rugby as a freshman at Hudson High School in Ohio and began his collegiate coaching career with Kent State University. He spent eight years with the Golden Flashes, serving as head coach and Director of Rugby, and then in 2016 began adding select side and regional coaching experience to his resume. He was involved with the Ohio U24s, Midwest U24s and served as assistant manager for the USA Women’s National Team.
“When I began coaching women’s rugby at the collegiate level in 2009, my sole motivation was to give back to the game,” Horton explained. “As I began to become further immersed in the sport … I started to evaluate success by more than wins and losses, but rather by what we as a program are doing to position the sport of rugby in a positive light and to help it grow.”
As Horton readies his to-do list at Guilford, he’s starting with the existing program and learning from the players who have remained with the team.
“Guilford College has a very under-sung, yet extremely rich tradition of women’s rugby at the club level,” Horton added. “Each player currently on the team provides a unique experience that is playing a pivotal role in pushing the program forward. Beyond their skills as players, the team has proved to be a valuable resource for myself to understand what makes this college special.”
Guilford players reviewing USA 7s film
On-campus recruitment will continue into the spring, as will the development of current players. Horton will build the roster for fall 2022, when Guilford intends to be an active participant in NIRA’s DIII. Ideally, Horton wants 30-35 student-athletes on the roster.
“A common misconception is that DIII programs are lower-tier when it comes to talent and competitiveness, and that is simply not the case,” Horton noted. “As a DIII NIRA program, we simply cater to student-athletes that are looking for a competitive atmosphere, while providing the flexibility to engage in other opportunities on a day-to-day basis. Specifically at Guilford, we are looking for Prospective Student-Athletes [PSA] that embrace our seven core values at the college: community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice, and stewardship. Oftentimes, we will ask to speak with a Prospective Student-Athlete before we even consider looking at their film. We are confident in our ability to develop talent, so we want to ensure that the PSA will be a good fit culturally before we begin to evaluate natural skill and athleticism.”
There is a lot of work to be done at Guilford, but as Horton connects with the current players, searches the country and beyond for the right student-athletes, and cements relationships with the administration, he’s keeping some grander objectives in mind.
“While it may sound odd coming from a male coach within the sport, I am a firm believer that in order for women’s rugby to continue growing at a rapid rate, we need to develop more opportunities for women to assume leadership roles within the sport,” Horton closed. “One of my primary goals at Guilford College is to continue to provide the necessary resources to aid in the development of future leaders for many years to come. Outside of what we are looking to achieve at the collegiate level, I am hopeful that our program at Guilford College will serve as a platform to promote girls rugby in the City of Greensboro. Being in the third-largest market in North Carolina, there are no excuses as to why girls’ rugby cannot thrive at the youth and high school ranks.”