Editor's note: This is the second story in a series of articles chronicling the growth of Guam rugby, and how the sport has received international acclaim, in part, due to Mount Saint Mary's University head coach Farrah Douglas and former Team Guam player and coach Peter Baggetta. With 12 Guamanian student-athletes playing NCAA D1 rugby, the sport has emerged as an avenue to higher education, and an opportunity to play at the next level. In this series, The Guam Daily Post will look at the past, present and future of Guam rugby, and will feature the island's athletes who are making names for themselves in collegiate rugby.
Until recently, leaving the island to play sports at the collegiate level seemed more like a pipe dream than a reality. For any young athlete who showed tremendous promise, parents would have to take a leap of faith and uproot their families to seek better coaching and a higher level of competition.
That is no longer the case.
In the past couple of years, several homegrown Guamanians left island and made it to the highest level of college athletics. John F. Kennedy High School track and field star Regine Tugade, who competed for The United States Naval Academy and broke multiple long-standing records, was one of Guam's first athletes to compete at the NCAA D1 level.
Rainier Porras, a Southern High School graduate, joined The United States Military Academy West Point’s champion boxing team and proved that Guam’s athletes have what it takes to compete with the nation's best.
As the level of sports on Guam has increased, student-athletes are becoming more confident and self-aware that they have what it takes to play in the NCAA.
This year alone, several student-athletes had committed to playing for NCAA D1, D2, and D3 institutions. In 2020, Father Duenas Memorial School Friars' Kyle Halehale signed to play D1 soccer for the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils.
Other D1 signees include Okkodo High School Bulldogs' Seiana Nedlic, and Notre Dame High School Bulldogs' Taylor Paige Aguon.
Both ladies came to terms with Mount Saint Mary's rugby
A the D2 level, Notre Dame's Shyann Roberto agreed to play soccer for the Saint Martin's University Saints.
Over the summer, St. John's School grad Madison Packbier signed on as a member of Claremont McKenna College's cross-country and track and field teams.
While most sports on Guam are leveling up, rugby is taking the sporting world by storm. With at least 12 student-athletes making the jump to NCAA D1, the mettle-testing sport is leading the insurgence.
“The NCAA offers an opportunity that didn’t exist not that long ago,” said MSMU women’s rugby head coach Farrah Douglas. “There is a lot of talent on island, and I have barely scratched the surface,” added Douglas, who has recruited six Guamanians to play for The Mount.
While The Mount may not be for everyone, the NCAA has 24 other programs, at varying levels, and many other options outside of the NCAA.
“There is an NCAA home for every athlete,” Douglas said, adding that she wants as many players from Guam to come to the Mount.
“Do I want as many Guam players as I can get, ‘yes,’” she said.
“‘Why?’” she asked herself.
“Because, they are the ideal athlete for how I want to play the game, the type of athlete I like to coach,” she said. “But, sharing the wealth means that all of the other programs benefit from the same things that I do.
“Which, in the end, improves the overall quality of the game we’re all playing.”
In Guam he trusts
When Peter Baggetta lived on Guam, he recognized that the islanders’ toughness, resiliency, and sense of family would translate into powerful, all-around rugby players. In 2005, after successfully advocating the launch of the sport into middle schools and high schools, rugby took off.
In 2010, Douglas joined Baggetta’s coaching staff at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., and with more than a 960 student-body population and 200-plus rugby players, Douglas was tapped to run the second varsity squad.
During Douglas’ seven-years at Gonzaga, she and Baggetta forged a powerful, professional relationship, and helped lead the all-boys Catholic institution to multiple national titles.
“We’ve won four national championships, but that never would have occurred without the opportunities Guam rugby gave me to develop as a coach - as a young coach - when I retired from playing,” said Baggetta, who serves as Gonzaga High's Director of the Center for Academic Excellence.
In 2017, Douglas left Gonzaga to take the MSMU head coaching position and remained close friends with Baggetta. Baggetta, who had never forgotten what he had started over 15 years ago, began to advance Guam rugby.
“I started advocating Guam’s players to Douglas,” Baggetta said.
Whenever Baggetta learned of a top recruit from Guam, he would call Douglas to share what the island’s coaches had passed on to him. In less than three years, Douglas’ trust in Baggetta had helped turn a struggling MSMU program into a championship contender.
Baggetta described his advocacy as good for The Mount, and good for Guam.
“It gives them the opportunity to continue playing the sport that they love, but also get their education paid for,” he added. “It’s a win-win for everybody.
“It’s just me giving back.”
NCAA D1 coach coming to Guam
While Douglas has never been to Guam, she is eager to visit the island to learn more about island rugby, gain a first-hand account of her players, and add more Guamanians to her roster.
“Guam has been on my bucket list for traveling,” said Douglas, who is planning on visiting the island once high school rugby starts up in 2020-2021 …
“Now that I have so many players, I think that it’s really important, not just for the recruiting piece, but to go and provide education on the NCAA programs in general," she said.
Although Douglas runs only one program, she is a member of the nation's most-powerful collegiate sporting organizations and plans on sharing all available options within the NCAA.
“Seriously, there is a school for everyone,” she said.
"I’m only one program, and I am not going to be the perfect fit for everyone," she added.
There are “a lot of amazing colleagues in the NCAA running some amazing programs that might be perfect for another player on Guam looking to come to the mainland for school,” she said. ...
“I can’t have all of the good players.”