Thursday, May 21, 2015

I Am Ohio Rugby: Stephanie Snoeberger

There are 25 young women set to travel to Europe and play matches in Wales, Ireland and England this August. They are the best U-23 talent from the Midwest region, and they are called the Thunderbirds. After tryouts were held, the final roster was selected from over 80 perspective players and there's at least one representative of the Buckeye State. Her name is Stephanie Snoeberger, and she has gone from trying rugby out on a whim to representing her region in this series of international competitions.

Snoeberger's rugby career began like many players her age, by taking a chance on a sport she had never heard of before. During he freshman year of high school, she was approached by one of the senior Dayton rugby players about trying out the sport. Despite having no knowledge of the sport at all, she, along with a friend and their coach KJ Pertner, took on the 2009-2010 season with a group of inexperienced girls eager to play rugby.
The 2015 Girls U-23 Midwest Thunderbirds
pose under the uprights after their tryouts

"I had no idea what this sport was and I don't think I had ever heard of it, but I was up for the challenge," she said. "Playing in the early years was so confusing and frustrating. There were so many rules that didn't stick with me at first that took time to develop over the years."

Once her first yeas was behind her, Snoeberger began to seek out ways to increase her rugby acumen and challenge herself. Her first stop, a camp held at Penn State University that was five full days of nothing but rugby. She signed up for one summer at the Penn State Rugby Academy accumulated a surprising amount of knowledge in one week of sessions. She took those lessons into her next year of play. Some athletes experience the dreaded sophomore slump, but Snoeberger's performance only increased, and with this improvement came higher-level playing opportunities.

"After my second year of rugby, I tried out for the U-19 Ohio Elite Select Side team, coached by Phil Payne, and made the team," she said. "I attended the camp that year as well. My senior year was the year that I somehow sprouted in my rugby career. I had played with the DARC women for a little bit that year and won MVP in a playoff game. I was also MVP of the year for my high school team and was, yet again, asked to play for the U-19 Ohio Elite Select Side team. I was also invited to the Midwest Thunderbird U19 Camp with Bryn Chivers."

During the waning years of her high school rugby career, Snoeberger and her teammates made it to the Semifinals of the State Championship tournament. She took home MVP honors in the process and got in some field time with the DARC women's side before being asked to play for the Ohio Elite side again.

There was little time for let-down when she made the transition into college rugby. Where most players worry about fitting in and learning the play style of their new team, Snoeberger found herself facing slightly bigger challenges as she found herself taking on roles normally reserved for players much older than her.

"Going into college I was expecting to be the rookie that everyone hazes, but boy was I wrong," she said. "A month into my first year of college, the President of our rugby club asked if I wanted to take over presidency of the club. Immediately, I was planning, recruiting, filling out paper work, everything that had to do with the club. Not only that, but there is no coach at Wright State, so I basically have had to player-coach both years I have been at Wright State."

Even though taking on the role of player-coach was difficult, there were positives to be had. She enjoyed the competitiveness of college play and the challenge that required her to push herself harder, think quicker and run faster than before.

Now Snoeberger is taking on another challenge in her young career. As she continues her tenure with the Midwest Thunderbirds, she will be traveling overseas to play with the squad of 25 players named earlier. Last year the Birds went on a tour to Canada, a learning experience and a challenge for everyone involved. This year's trip should be no different.

" This team will push me to my limits and exceed my style of play," Snoeberger said. "There are many tips and tricks that I have learned from Coach Steve Murra and Coach Roger Riley that have already improved my style of play immensely. I love working with Steve, Roger, Gray, Sherri, Cassie, and the other assistant coaches. The coaching team for the Midwest Thunderbirds is incredible and they are all amazing people, players, and coaches. They are able to connect to their players on a personal level which isn't something most players can say for an elite team, where they only see each other for maybe a couple weeks a year."
2015 Girls' U-23 Midwest Thunderbirds

This trip isn't all about competing and pushing physical limits, though. The camaraderie of the team dynamic that develops from traveling with, playing with and learning from one another is also a big factor for Snoeberger. She also said she was looking forward to taking in all the off-field perks a trip like this one has to offer.

Though she is not looking past the August trip by any means, Snoeberger is already planning for the next leg of her playing career. If she has her way, she'll represent the Midwest with the Thunderbirds until she's no longer eligible for the U-23 team. After that she plans to represent the Midwest on a senior Select Side. The fact is that there isn't one at this point for the women, but if that is the case when Snoeberger is ready to play at that level she might take the initiative and start one herself.

"I plan to have rugby in my life for as long as I live whether it is reffing, coaching, or playing," she said.

The team departs on their European tour in August, but these trips don't run on hopes and dreams. Snoeberger is raising money to help defer some of the travel costs. Those interested in donating, can visit her GoFundMe site and contribute as they are able.

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