In June, following the retirement of MaryBeth Mathews, Laura Miller was named head coach of the women’s rugby team. As only the second coach in program history, Miller hopes to preserve and build upon the team’s storied culture while also growing Division III rugby as a whole.
Rugby has always been a central part of Miller’s life. Growing up in South Bend, Ind., Miller began playing when she was 14 and was immediately drawn to the sport’s physicality.
“The physical nature of the game is incredible for young women in particular, who are not taught that they can do that. Rugby teaches you to be aggressive in a way that is positive and nonviolent, and to use your body in a way that women are traditionally taught is negative,” Miller said.
Miller went on to play at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she was named a two-time All-American. She was a member of the U.S. Women’s National 15’s team from 2010 to 2016, in addition to playing for multiple teams in the Women’s Premier League. Pursuing a coaching career felt natural to Miller.
“The community of women’s rugby was my family. It was my professional network. It was my support system,” Miller said. “It was the framework for building a life.”
Miller worked as the director and head coach of rugby and the head coach at Alderson Broaddus University for three years. Most recently, she was the founding coach of the women’s rugby program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Bowdoin’s history and academic environment drew Miller to the program.
“I’ve been aware of [Bowdoin’s] program for a long time. I want to be at a place where the students are here because they love the College and where rugby is a really important part of their education, but it’s not the only reason why they came here,” Miller said.
Bowdoin finished last season 8-1 and brought home its third straight National Intercollegiate Rugby Association Division III Championship. Miller stressed that, while the team is working to bring home another championship, it is excited to build upon its current identity.
“Part of my job is protecting the culture because what we have right now is really positive. But the question is, okay, what’s next? This team has won three Division III championships. That’s amazing. What else does this team want to be?” Miller said.
The team is continuing to challenge itself in the regular season by scheduling competitive matches. Bowdoin opens its season against DII Frostburg State University next weekend and will even take on Army War College’s B team later this month.
“We want to continue to be competitive in Division III, but I also want to add in Division II programs,” Miller said. “This team has earned the opportunity to play tougher teams, so that’s what I want to provide.”
Miller is also eager to promote women’s rugby and aims to grow its presence in the NESCAC.
“The real long term goals are to help foster and create a very competitive Division III rugby ecosystem…. We can be an example here of what is possible if other NESCAC schools try to add rugby programs,” Miller said.
Off the pitch, Miller values an inclusive environment and a commitment to community standards, like showing up to practice on time, working hard and holding one another accountable.
“It’s an understanding that this is who we are and how we behave,” she said. “The welcoming piece is really important because you want people to be included, and then you set those behaviors. We know what we have to do.”
Miller added that she was already surprised by the team’s skill set and work ethic.
“It’s a lot higher than I expected. It’s exciting to see players who already have an understanding of the framework of the sport…. They’ve all completely bought in as rugby players,” Miller said. “Now, we can start getting into those really fun details of the game, like how we can be creative and how we can play off of each other.”
Miller is looking forward to spending more time with the players and seeing them develop throughout the year.
Captain Jorja Markella ’24 said Miller has brought new energy to the team.
“[Miller] is really involved and gives good feedback. She gets down on the grass and demonstrates what we’re doing. She’s great, and we’re all very excited,” Markella said.
The Polar Bears open their season next Saturday against Frostburg State in Hamden, Conn.