Meaghan Schmitt ’20 truly embodies the idea of Tommie pride. Whether during her time as an undergraduate student in health promotion or now as an aspiring MBA student, her job as the head coach of the university’s rugby team, or her work in Dining Services, she has never lost her love for the University of St. Thomas.
Rugby always has been a part of Schmitt’s life; her mother and father, who were both rugby coaches, introduced the game of rugby to her at a young age. The early exposure and family involvement fueled her love of the sport. So, when it came time for her to begin her education at St. Thomas in 2016, she was always supporting the rugby team. Her brother, Tyler, was a St. Thomas rugby team member, and her dad, Tom, was the coach until spring 2018, ending the semester Tyler graduated. This support led to a role for Schmitt as team manager, which she held until she graduated. Upon graduation, she accepted the head coach position in spring 2020.
Through her hard work, the team has continued to grow.
What was the hardest part of the transition from being the team manager to head coach?
In a manager role it’s a lot more of a peer-to-peer relationship, as we were both students and similar in age. They saw me almost as a teammate as I was a part of the team but just didn’t play. So that was a challenge to move into more of a leadership role and figure out those dynamics, especially for those who had been on the team when I was a manager. Luckily, it was not as difficult for the younger players as they had not been on the team when I was a manager. The hardest part was figuring out the change in dynamics from being a friend and a manager to still trying to keep some level of friendship but from a position of leadership.
What is your favorite aspect of coaching the rugby team?
My favorite aspect is the growth I get to see in the players and watching their improvement in their game by using the tools that I have given them. I don’t believe in trying to give the players a set way of playing. That is not how I want to coach nor a style that works well in rugby. So, getting to see the culmination of these tools being implemented and the hard work of the players paying off is by far the most rewarding thing.
Did you always plan on becoming the rugby coach for St. Thomas?
I never really planned on becoming the coach. I have always been involved in the team from when I first came to this university. My brother was a member of the team, so I would go to the games to support him and began to start doing things for the team such as taking photos and recording stats. Through that I fell more into a manager role, but I still never envisioned that I would become the coach. I got my coaching certification probably halfway through my college career and began to coach high school for a while. My senior year the leaders of the team came to me and asked me if I would be interested in becoming the coach for the team. It felt right at the time and something I would be interested in, so I decided to pursue it.
How did you become involved with the university’s Dining Services?
I started working in catering my sophomore year of college and worked my way up to student manager and became close with my manager and a supervisor. After I graduated, I worked with a different company for a little while, but I always had the intention to come back and work at St. Thomas. So, when a position opened here and the university reached out to me to apply, I jumped at the opportunity; I love to be around St. Thomas. With the benefits I get from working here while continuing my education, it just made a ton of sense to me to come back and accept a more full-time position.
What is the biggest way your father has influenced your coaching style?
Both my mom and dad coached rugby, so my coaching style is more of a collaboration of both of theirs and not so much a style from one or the other. If you ask the players who were around when my father was the coach, they will say I don’t have a very similar coaching approach. However, my father is responsible for my understanding and knowledge of the game, which is crucial for coach to have.
What was the hardest part of coaching during the pandemic?
Not being able to guarantee our student-athletes when they would be able to compete or even if we would be able to compete at all. It was challenging, as we wanted to have our players maintain a competitive edge and continue to give it their all in practice even though they didn’t have a match the next week. To try to find something to pull on to build this motivation was quite challenging, especially we needed to continue to pull in new members of our team from the incoming class of freshmen when we couldn’t promise them a game their first year. Finding the balance within practice of making them fun but also making sure that the players would still be able to be competitive if we were to have a match was one of the largest challenges we faced.
Do you have a favorite memory from coaching or your time as team manager?
My favorite memory was this past fall during homecoming when we were able to finally be able to play a match on St. Thomas’ campus. To have that recognition that we were a club on this campus who get to compete on this campus was incredibly heartening. Also, the support from the community whether it was the players family and friends, our alumni, or even just students on campus who just wanted to come out and show their support was amazing. It just this intense feeling that we are moving forward. We are a club sport that is growing and getting our name out there, and that we are doing things that are getting noticed was incredibly impactful. Especially with this being my first conference season that we were able to play, being able to say that we were being noticed and having support is incredible.
What do you see the team accomplishing in the near future?
We really hope to keep growing our numbers so we’re able to have a competitive side and a training side. As rugby is still a niche sport in the states, we have people coming out with a variety of different rugby backgrounds. So, to have the ability to give everyone in practice something to work toward and being able to guarantee that everyone will be able to play on the weekends would be incredible.
We’re only able to roster 25 players for a match, so when we have a number like 35 where we have more than the roster space but not enough to have two full sides is quite the challenge. It’ll help us so much as we will be able to keep people engaged and be able to offer new students the possibility to continue to compete at a high level if they don’t want to compete at a D-I level. A lot of people want to come to St. Thomas, so we want to offer these people the option to be able to compete even if they do not plan on going the D-I route.
How do you balance your responsibilities in Dining Services and as a coach?
My full-time job is my priority as it is what I spend most of my week doing as well as what I am being paid to do. Luckily, I do get a lot of flexibility from the management from my managers at catering and the university as they know I coach rugby so I can tell them when my games are and when we have practices to make sure that I am able to be there for these times. My piece of the balance comes from when I have to go home, as I am a die-hard Tommie because I do love St. Thomas. Why else would I spend so much of my time here? I do have to remind myself to spend some time on myself. On the rugby side of it I never have seen it as a job as it is something I love, so I don’t mind spending the evening coaching.