College is the origin point for many Americans’ rugby careers, and that’s precisely where Narcisse Jordan met the sport. The Cleveland native became a founding member of the Notre Dame College women’s club team, which would go on to win a DII national championship and later join the NCAA women’s varsity league. As momentous as those early days were, bigger and more impressive achievements – in rugby and life – were to follow.
Jordan, now 26 years old, learned about rugby in 2010 when she saw an episode of MTV’s MADE with Phaidra Knight.
“I need to play that sport,” said Jordan, who played football with the boys during her youth and then played basketball and ran track & field in high school.
Fortuitously, Notre Dame College started a women’s rugby club team in August 2012, just as Jordan was reporting as a freshman.
“I was part of the team that started it all – the First Five,” Jordan said. “Throughout the season, we recruited girls and the team just skyrocketed with this amazing group of athletic women.
“The collectiveness,” the loosehead prop said of the sport’s initial lure. “You can’t be individualized in this sport; you need your whole team to shine. It’s not like basketball where if you’re not the fastest or the strongest, then you don’t have a position. In rugby there’s a role for everyone, and if you play that role, then you can win, and that made me really confident as an athlete. If you go on the field and know how to pass the ball, and play with heart and compassion and give your all, then I would love to play with you.
“And the grittiness,” Jordan added as the second-most attractive aspect of the sport.
In the Falcons’ second season, the team advanced to the 2013 ACRA 15s final (which would evolve into the USA Rugby DII College Fall Championship) and lost to Winona State. The following year, when Jordan was a junior, Notre Dame College beat the Black Katts for the fall title and went on to win the 2015 DII national championship against UC Riverside.
Those victories belonged to Jordan, even though she had to stop playing in fall 2014 due to her first pregnancy. She attempted to return to the team after son Hunter was born, but she got married and life responsibilities took precedence.
“I had to put the cleats away,” Jordan said.
She graduated in spring 2016 with a Studio Arts degree and then moved to Tampa, Fla., when her husband, who is in the military, was stationed there. In 2017, the couple’s second child was born. In January 2019, Jordan decided to revisit rugby. Her husband was being deployed for a third tour, and the mother of two wanted some activity and balance in her life. She found the Tampa Bay Krewe.
“I was nervous and overwhelmed but they welcomed me with open arms,” Jordan said. “That was a really good year for Tampa, too. There were a lot of new faces, so that made it a lot more comfortable, because I wasn’t just coming into a team that already had a bond. I was also worried that my athleticism and fitness wouldn’t be enough, but I did OK.”
Right away, that collectiveness that first drew Jordan to the sport resurfaced and it added another layer of comfort.
“That feeling of community was really enhanced once I became a mom,” Jordan said. “If you’re someone who wants to play and your teammates see that, they’ll do everything in their power to help you and support you when you’re a mom. When I joined Tampa, I told them that I have two kids, and they said, ‘Bring them to practice; that’s fine.’ It was great and it made me stick with the decision to return to rugby.”
Midway through the spring 2019 season, the Tampa men’s coach, Dai Morgan, started recruiting Jordan for Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales.
“How would you feel about playing in Wales? You have talent and you’ll be trained, but you have to go back to school,” Jordan recited Morgan’s pitch. “I told him that I had already graduated and that I wasn’t sure if I’d be eligible, but he said it wasn’t like the NCAA where you only have a set number of years to play.”
With Jordan’s husband still deployed, there was a lot to consider, including the length of the school term and child care. But it was also an opportunity to pursue a master’s in Fine Arts, and Jordan began to warm to the idea.
“My husband talked me into it, which people find funny, but I think he wanted me to get that experience,” Jordan said. “My family 100% backed me, and my mom and grandmom kept the kids in Ohio when I was gone.”
Jordan enrolled and received a scholarship to Cardiff Met, and once the Tampa Bay season ended in May, she readied herself for the move overseas. Cardiff Met competes in the ultra-competitive British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) Super League, which introduced a Women’s National League for the top six schools in the United Kingdom for the 2019-20 season. Uni teams can feature rugby newcomers through internationally capped adults, so long as they’re enrolled in the school.
Worcester Warriors coach Sian Moore noticed Jordan and invited her as a substitute for one of their games. Worcester is one of 10 clubs that competes in the Tyrrells Premier 15s, the U.K.’s top women’s league. Although the league is losing its title sponsor in August 2020 the competition, which hosts elite and developmental games, attracts international talent.
“Since then, I’ve never left,” Jordan said.
The university, club and national teams coordinate training and game schedules (Uni games are Wednesday nights, and Prem and national tests are on the weekend) and made sure competition blocks prevented overlapping commitments. There was flexibility in the strength & conditioning programs, and those coaches were heavily involved in managing players’ schedules and welfare.
Worcester Warriors / Photo: Andy Moss
“A lot of people do it,” Jordan said of players playing for multiple teams simultaneously. “At first I was like: How is this possible?! But there is a lot of tracking and paying attention to players’ schedules. The girls who play on multiple teams will wear a tracker vest to see how much load they’re taking at practice. So I’ll wear my GPS on Monday during Uni practice, and then when I got to Prem practice on Tuesday and Thursday, they’ll see how much running I did and sometimes they’d come to me, ‘You did too much Monday so you need to sit out this session.’”
The program worked because there was good communication and investment between coaches and players. Jordan relied on that relationship given the stress of being a grad student, living in a foreign country, playing for two teams simultaneously, and being away from home.
“The biggest thing that kept me motivated was the fact that I was away from my family,” Jordan said. “I was able to stay focused but if I wasn’t feeling something one day, I could tell the coaches and they’d sit with you and let you know how they can support you. That was really helpful, especially coming to the U.K. from the USA to play rugby, which was really different.
“When I played for Worcester, it was a different outlook on rugby,” she continued. “I didn’t do many [player] camps in the U.S., and when I learned rugby, it was new to my coach, Mark Andrade, too. So the knowledge I’ve learned in the U.K. is crazy. In the U.S., I was taught structural, fundamental rugby, but I’m learning the game in the U.K. It’s very tactical.”
Worcester Warriors / Photo: Andy Moss
Jordan played flanker at Tampa, moved to No. 8 for Cardiff Met, and then moved to the front row for Worcester.
“It would feel like a breeze because I had so much more energy,” Jordan compared the back row with the front row. “But it helped me develop into a more versatile player.”
Jordan fully dedicated herself to the training and spent the Prem season with the Worcester developmental side, but the goal was to earn that jersey for the top side. Meanwhile, she had to commit to her master’s program.
“That was the hardest thing – being a student and playing for two teams – because being a Fine Arts major, you have to put in the hours in the studio,” Jordan explained. “So I had to have this calm side of me [for the studio] and this very athletic, aggressive side that wanted to keep moving. It was hard to find a balance, but I eventually learned how to intertwine them. When rugby became too much, I’d run to the studio and work on my project, and vice versa. My thesis was trial-and-error, so when I was trying to figure out what to create [and got frustrated], I could go to rugby. It all became easier when I started feeding both sides with each other.”
Worcester Warriors / Photo: Andy Moss
The next competition block was set to begin after the conclusion of the 2020 Women’s Six Nations, and Worcester notified Jordan that she was likely to debut for the first team when the premiership resumed on March 21. Then Covid-19 intervened.
“I had just made it back and now I couldn’t even go and prove myself. It kept bothering me and so I told my husband and everyone else: If [Worcester] offers me a position [for 2020-21], I have to go back,” Jordan said. “I worked really hard and I just wanted to prove to myself that I was able to get there.”
During the pandemic, Jordan also had to work on her Fine Arts thesis, and she found a special way to unite it with her kids and Black Lives Matter.
“My thesis is about the oppression that Black American women go through and the psychological effect and vicious cycle that is passed down through generations,” Jordan said. “I created these masks to show self reflection and to help bring back value to the personality and persona of Black women in America.”
Jordan had wanted to join the Black Lives Matter protests but feared being tear-gassed and then having to come home to her children. But she also wanted to be participate and show her kids that they had voices.
“Since I’ve been home I’ve organized two protests in Tampa and Cleveland – Black Lives Matter Toddler March – to inspire my kids,” Jordan said. “The professors at Cardiff Met liked that instead of an exhibition for my art pieces I was doing a community protest with my masks.
“It’s a space for moms and dads and families to come and do this with their kids,” Jordan continued. “We created a peaceful protest march at two different parks, walked a mile, and protested and chanted for equality and our children’s futures, and things like that. That racism is not born, it’s taught.”
Jordan indicated that her five-year-old son loved the marches, holding his little poster and feeding off the energy and general excitement. Jordan’s three-year-old daughter didn’t really understand what was happening, but there were snacks, so it was all good.
Jordan then received word that Worcester’s Director of Rugby, Jo Yapp, wanted to resign her for the 2020-21 season, and Jordan accepted the proposition.
“Narcisse is a powerful athlete, who really started to show her potential as we went through the season,” Worcester forwards coach Mike Hill told warriors.co.uk. “She is hungry to develop and will be invaluable next season as she brings so much energy to us as a squad.”
Jordan will submit her thesis at the end of August and graduate from Cardiff Met with a master’s in Fine Arts in September, and thus only play for Worcester going forward.
“This time I wanted to bring my kids with me, but my grandma was like, NO. She was definitely keeping the kids with her because of Covid and because it keeps flaring up,” said Jordan, who tells the kids she’s going back to Wales for work, which they associate with dad on deployment. “But I’m very excited they offered me a position. The team’s taken a turn and it’s very positive. There are so many new people coming in and of course I can’t wait to play with my old teammates again.”
Jordan is going to throw herself into the training and get everything she hopefully needs from the quality coaching staff and elite-level teammates.
“I hope to get trained up so I can try out for the USA team,” Jordan said. “That is a goal of mine, to get to a camp and see if I can make it.”
Jordan has her goals, but she’s always thinking about her children and the example she’s setting for them.
“When I spoke to my husband about it, he was like, ‘Think about all the things you wanted to do when you were pregnant.’ A lot of people let that stop them and I didn’t want to let that stop me,’’ Jordan said. “I was thinking about my mom. She was pregnant with me at the same age as when I had my son, and she’d tell me about the things that she stopped. She never, ever made me feel bad about it, but I never want my kids to feel like life has to stop just because something changed. I want them to know you can keep going, just know it’s going to be extra work you put into it, and that’s O.K.”