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On 40 Caps, COVID Epiphanies, and Dark Arts: Catie Benson

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On 40 Caps, COVID Epiphanies, and Dark Arts: Catie Benson

Catie Benson in action this year. Ian Muir photo. Note her hair tie has been jarred loose and is caught, mid-air, by our photographer.

When Catie Benson arrived at Penn State she saw the list of rugby All Americans up on the wall on campus said told herself she wanted to be on that list.

She got there, and then saw the USA jerseys posted for all the Penn State capped players. 

“I was like, dammit, I want a jersey on that wall,” Benson told GRR. Saturday she earns her 40th cap for the USA, a huge achievement for the Buffalo-area prop who only made her debut in 2015 and had COVID interrupt a chunk of that journey.

“Never did I think 40 caps was going to happen,” she continued, laughing slightly at the surprising absurdity of it all. "I'm very honored. With the Eagles who came before me they played three to five test matches a year and now we have this ability to play 10 to 12. So I'm very honored. hopefully I can get some more and every time I borrow that jersey I try to make it better."

And yes she used the word borrowed. The concept is one of how no player owns a USA jersey—you borrow it for a time, and take care of it.

“It’s not mine to keep,” she explained. “You’re borrowing that jersey and try to make it 1% better every time you put it on.”

Benson grew up with rugby—her dad played and she was always around it. But how seriously she wanted to make it only really clicked at Penn State. And even then, there was yet another decision to make, and she made it when … there was no rugby to be played.

Benson graduated from Penn State and moved to California to play rugby and study Chiropractic at Life West. It was a hugely positive experience (players who come from Life West to the Eagles now get a “hey Life West!” greeting from Benson even if they don’t know each other). But the thought of going to play professionally overseas was always there.

“I’d always wanted to play in England,” Benson told GRR. “During the beginning parts of my international career I was thinking about it. My dad played rugby and his friends were saying ‘you should do it!’ Then COVID happened and I was in California with Life West and the World Cup got changed. We had the Daily Training Environments in Colorado and I had to leave chiropractic because I to to get ready for the World Cup even though I didn’t think it was going to happen. And right then I heard that the World Cup was going to be delayed I was on the phone with my mom and said ‘you know, this whole England thing seems really amazing and I really want to do it.’”

Before that could happen, Benson entered COVID quarantine with Megan Foster—they had to do that before joining the whole squad in DTE assembly. Sounds like a hardship …

“It was amazing; we had so much fun,” laughs Benson, who often goes by "Benny" because there are so many Kates, Katherines, Cathryns, and Caties on the USA team. “We did our nails every day, played games, did puzzles.”

But she did end up moving, going to Sale where the biggest changes were that she could lift with her teammates instead of squeezing that around work, the weather allowed for rugby almost all the time, and there were new approaches from players and coaches.

“The weather in England makes it so we can play all these games and unless there’s the occasional frozen field, we can play,” she explained. “In the US you have hurricanes and snowstorms … So I’ve played so much more rugby and you learn from that. Being in the front row you have that many more scrums underneath you.”

And it was a new environment, with new teammates, new opponents, and new coaches.

“I learned so much from Life West and so much from Penn States—ˆ had brilliant coaches in Adrian Ferris and Pete Steinberg and Kate Daley. But now I have Rachel Taylor and Katy Daly-McLean and Mark Luffers [Luffman]. And learning from more people just makes you more well-rounded.”

A Team That’s Learning

“We’re rebuilding,” Benson said directly when asked about the Eagles. “We’re rebuilding and growing and we have new players coming in and we’re integrating these younger players while the older girls are there. We’re taking it step by step and each game we want to be better at X, Y, and Z and that’s just the journey we’re on.”

It’s about growing together and not getting caught up in one result. If you do that, and one game, one result serves as judgment for the entire program, you can get stuck.

But against Italy on Saturday the USA has a chance to garner a win against a Six Nations team, and garner revenge for what turned out to be a wakeup call loss in the World Cup last year.

“The one thing is capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes,” she said. “We’re getting there. We’re seeing that space but it’s like we’re going A to C and we need to get to that B first. But, yes, capitalizing on other people’s mistakes.”

A Player That’s Always Learning

“I had the dream [at Penn State] to be propping against Hope [Rogers] all the time. I had to deal with that real quick.”

Even so, there’s a massive leap from being a great college or club player and to being an international. It’s fair to say that at 40 caps Catie Benson figured out how to make that leap.

“When you get to know a few of the pages of the dark arts … there’s a magical book. Jamie Burke knows it. Sarah Chobot knows it. Mel our coach here … all of our great props know this lovely book that no one gives you,” Benson explained. “Once you figure that dark arts book you’re like ‘alright we got this.’”