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Denham Takes Talents - and Players - to CWU

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Denham Takes Talents - and Players - to CWU

Mel Denham may be new to coaching, but she’s making an impact with every move she makes. Having elevated the caliber of American International College’s women’s program – speedily – the former Eagle has taken her talents to the west coast and looks to replicate the Yellow Jackets’ success at new varsity program Central Washington University.
 
“I always coach the athletes to push and challenge themselves to be better on and off the field,” Denham explained her move. “Developing the first varsity program on the west coast seemed like an opportunity for me to live by my word. It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make though.”
 
It might have been a tougher decision if AIC was struggling to identify itself, but the Massachusetts program did a good job of instilling a structure that would enable future success. With that comfort in mind, Denham indulged in the bounty of resources that CWU offered, including the ability to hire a full-time assistant coach (7s and 15s Eagle Katie Dowty), access to a full-time strength coach, partnership with Serevi Rugby for even more coaching and development opportunities for the student-athletes, and of course offering rugby scholarships.
 
Denham accepted the position in late May and faced the difficult task of finding and signing scholarship-worthy athletes before the program’s first varsity season in the fall. She turned to a familiar pool of players.
 
“One thing I have learned in working with college athletics and recruiting is that a lot of student-athletes commit to the coaches,” Denham said, “That being said, a handful of players have decided to transfer to CWU. West-coasters Megan Pinson, Haley Schafer and Cassidy Meyers had all traveled across the country to play at AIC. They have transferred to Central and are thrilled to be closer to home and their families. Rosalind Pena [Bronx, NY], who has always wanted to move to the west coast, has transferred to Central as well. This is an exciting opportunity for all of them.”
 
And it’s quite a coup. The aforementioned players were highly touted when recruited for AIC for their freshmen years and played huge parts in the team’s success last year. With so few varsity programs around the country, this type of exodus has yet to be seen.
 
But Denham didn’t rely on her previous relationships alone; she dug her heels into the regional rugby community and not only recruited some excellent high schoolers but also reintegrated talented players who would benefit from this professional environment. There’s now a sister duo from Fallbrook, Calif. – Sammy, the elder, joins Megan Pinson on the field. Former All-American Asinate Serevi joins fellow Kent (Wash.) alum Meyers. Junior All American Ashley Rolsma is also from Kent and recently returned from the WJAA tour to Canada. The Washington State Loggers have sent Mele Halahuni, Jenny Johnson, Jasmine Tuilaepa and Jen Larson to the Ellensburg campus. And finally, two Stars & Stripes players from northern California – Queen Fina Toetuu (Danville) and Suliana Tausinga (Sacramento Amazons) – inject a healthy dose of physicality for which their home teams are renowned.
 
There’s a ton of potential in Denham’s new squad, which will participate in Division I of USA Rugby’s Pacific Mountain Conference, North Division. League play doesn’t begin until late in the year into 2015, so there’s some time to build cohesion.
 
“My expectations are mostly based around development, and instilling a culture,” Denham said. “That comes down to what the student-athletes are willing to put in. There is plenty of opportunity for us to be competitive this first year, but for me, if there is measurable growth from where we start the year to where we finish, and everyone has fun while doing it, then we have had a successful first varsity season.”
 
CWU is poised to be the next big thing in women’s DI college rugby, and Denham will once again be at the forefront.