Editor's note: This is the first 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 eight Guamanian student-athletes playing NCAA D1 rugby, and another four playing for national powerhouse Saint Mary's College of California, 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.
When Farrah Douglas first learned about Guam rugby, in 2012, she had been playing for an invitational-only U.S. national development team called Sion. At 5-foot-6, she was used to being one of the shortest players on the field, but then she met Kayla Taguacta and wondered if the barely five-foot-tall Guamanian had the game to play at the national level.
Not before too long, she was impressed.
“As a player, Kayla was really well balanced in her skill set,” said Douglas, who retired from national team competition in 2011 and coaches the women’s rugby team at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. “She had very nice passing, finesse and accuracy.”
Although Taguacta was small, she had a strong physical presence in contact, and her work rate was high. She had a solid understanding of the game, Douglas added.
Five years later, Douglas accepted the head coaching position at The Mount, an NCAA Division I program competing in the Northeast Conference. During her inaugural season, The Mountaineers struggled. With an overall 2-16 record, 1-10 in conference play, she knew that she needed tough, physical, smart players who could elevate the program.
At the encouragement of Peter Baggetta, the Director of the Center for Academic Excellence at Gonzaga College High School of Washington, D.C., she looked toward Guam to fill her roster. Baggetta, who had coached and played for Team Guam, knew that the island’s women would be a perfect fit for Douglas’ upstart program.
Three years after taking the helm, Douglas has added six players from Guam - four current and two recent signees - to her roster and steered the team to a 2018-2019 National Collegiate Rugby Association Tier 2 Cup Finals, and a 2019-2020 NIRA Tier 2 semifinals.
The six Guam women playing, for The Mount are Hannah Rhodes-Rojas, Academy of Our Lady of Guam; Lavona Rae Aromin, AOLG; Jalana Jade Garcia, George Washington High School; Victoria “Mara” Tamayo, Okkodo High School; Taylor Paige Aguon, Notre Dame High School; and Seiana Nedlic, OHS.
“At some point, other schools are going to try and jump on the Guam bandwagon,” Douglas said. “I hope to continue to be a place that the girls want to come and play for because of the program that we are building, the legacy this first six have created, what I represent as a coach, my approach to the game, and my approach to my athletes.”
Depending on how the coronavirus pandemic plays out and if high school rugby season resumes in 2020-2021, Douglas is planning a first-ever recruiting trip to Guam. She has been impressed with the island's rugby, and hopes to bring more talented Guamanians to The Mount.
Douglas recognized the Guamanians as physical, quick, adaptive, smart, capable, creative and coachable.
“For me, I think they bring that physical type of game,” she said. “They like to run with the ball a lot.
“In general, I see them struggle less with decision-making, and I run a system that relies very heavily on the ability to decision-make on the fly, under pressure. They play a much more free game, and are able to utilize a variety of options to adapt better to what is happening in front of them.
“They play with creativity.”
In the early 2000s, Baggetta, Guam Rugby Football Union President Stephen Grantham, Guam Rugby Club’s Ross Morrison, Joshua Walsh and others decided to grow rugby by introducing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2005, after many schools launched rugby into their athletics programs, a new era had begun.
Fifteen years later, Guam rugby is receiving more national and international collegiate attention than ever before.
“I have still managed to look out for Guam rugby because it’s really important to me,” Baggetta said. “It’s my legacy, and my family is deeply involved with rugby.”
With at least eight Guamanians playing NCAA D1 rugby, Alejandra Ada and Matias Calvo both playing for Dartmouth College, and another four men playing for Saint Mary’s College of California (Alex Shinohara, Isidro Orot, Joshua Lujan, and Kobe Onedera), rugby has become a path to education and next-level athletics.
“It’s a powerful opportunity,” Baggetta said. “Anytime any student-athlete gets to leave Guam to play any sport at a university I think is a real big deal.”
With multiple scholarship options available, Douglas has been able to make dreams a reality.
“The other thing that I think that Farrah does really well is put together really good financial packages for our girls to be able to come and play rugby and get their education paid for,” Baggetta said. “That’s a big thing.”
As The Mount rugby movement continued to grow, and Guam’s student-athletes are receiving international exposure, Douglas’ and Baggetta’s professional relationship has become rock solid, knowing that they have their best interests at heart. With their mutual respect for each other, they have built a respected program and created opportunities for several of Guam's elite athletes.
“It’s my way to give back to my island, and it’s my way to give back to Guam rugby,” Baggetta said.
"I am lucky that I know Peter," Douglas said.
Baggetta knows that opportunity on Guam is a precious commodity and he remains committed to helping his islanders achieve their dreams.
"What I want to do is continue to encourage our players on Guam to look for these opportunities to go off island, play the sport that they love, but also get their education paid for," he said. … “I’ve always believed that the athletes on Guam could compete in the mainland.
"It’s taking that leap, and finding those people who believe that they could come out and compete.”
With at least seven Guamanian women either playing or set to play NCAA D1 rugby, these proud, determined, elite athletes validate Baggetta's effort.
“They keep on showing that our girls on Guam can play with anybody in the world,” he said. “I’m going to continue to advocate for our girls.”