At the end of the 2012 fall season, Washington Women’s Rugby Head Coach Nancy Fitz announced her plans to step down as team leader. Fitz has a long history with women’s rugby, on the Furies and the national stage. As an honored “Lifetime Member” of the Furies, Fitz embodies the spirit of the team. Like most Lifetime Members, Fitz has served in nearly every capacity, leading on and off the field.
Nancy Fitz began playing rugby in 1991 when she was recruited by M.A.Sheehan while playing soccer. Back then, the Furies were not the well-oiled organized that they are today. “’Back in the day’”, Fitz reflects, “we had about 20 players on the roster consistently. We practiced and played hard but were not as serious about the game as we are now. Most rookies had never seen rugby before – it was a huge bonus to get a rookie who had played in college. We loved rugby but I’m not sure we had a great understanding about the game.” Never the less, the Furies excelled. They ranked amongst the top teams nationwide, and for many years, Fitz led the team on the field as the captain.
Reflecting on her time as a player, Fitz shares a story of one of her favorite Furies memories:
“My favorite game as a player was when we beat NOVA in overtime in the MARFU championships. I think it was 2005 – it was a really hot spring day and the games were at Gravely Point. The score kept going back and forth…a really intense game. But we managed to pull it out in overtime, which was exhausting because of the heat. That was the semifinal and we had to play the next day. We beat Philly to go into Nationals as the number one seed in MARFU.”
It’s not really an overstatement to say that Fitz is rugby legend. Playing on the US Women’s National Team for both 15’s (1996 to 2002) and 7’s (1997 to 1999), Fitz gained an impressive 21 international caps. For many of those, she lead the team as captain. Current Furies captain, Katie Bell discovered this in a most unexpected way, one day at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.
“I was visiting Ida at the lake placid Olympic training center and I was waiting for her in the main lobby,” she says. “There’s a big binder there that they keep on a coffee like table where they have every Olympic athlete that ever trained at the center and their sport. I was flipping through and who’s name was I immediately drawn too? Fitz! It was an awesome moment. It was then when it really sank in who our coach was. She is an incredible coach but was also an incredible rugby player and athlete. She was the real deal!”
Most recently, Fitz has served as the head coach for the DC Furies. With bottomless dedication, she planned practices, formulated game plans, steered the coaching staff, and pushed players to be their best. The team has been a participant in the Women’s Premiere League since it’s formation in 2008. Through a hard-fought 4 years, Fitz has been at the helm. Fitz refers to her coaching career as a ‘journey’, a continuous path with many lessons learned along the way.
“The journey,” she says, “over the past 3.5 years has definitely been challenging and has not always been fun. But when I compare where the team is now to where we were in August 2009, I believe that we have all learned a lot and improved a lot. Individual players have improved so much and we’ve grown as a team as well – both offensively and defensively – and both the WPL side and the B-side.”
It’s hard to write about Nancy Fitz without reflecting on the Furies as a whole. A member of the club and a leader, Fitz embodies much of what the Furies are about. For the team, a dedication to the whole team- A-side and B-side, players old and new, alike- has been central from the start. As a coach, Fitz paid attention to the full team, from player 1 to 45. It is a mentality of the Furies that has not changed over the years. Some rules of rugby are different now. (Have you ever watched a game from the 80’s? The lineouts: there’s no lifting. And the haircuts…) Scoring changed. (A try used to be 4 points, not 5). But some things stay the same.
“Back when we had 20 players, you weren’t allowed to sub. I’m very proud of the fact that the Furies have always made it a priority that everyone who is committed gets to play. But we always played an extra period to make sure that those five extra players got some game time. That was ingrained as an important tenet of who the Furies were when I joined the club over 20 years ago and I believe this is why the Furies have such strong numbers and have thrived while other clubs have struggled at times.”
So what do you do with your time when it’s not spent watching game tape, running practices, traveling for matches, writing practice plans, and fielding emails from the Furies all day?
“I am looking forward to sleeping a lot more, reading, going to more concerts/music shows and beer dinners, spending more time with Bev and the dogs, playing more soccer” says Fitz, “and hopefully doing more running and biking to counteract those beer dinners (and time at Dogfish Head Alehouse). Ever committed to the game of rugby Fitz says she also plans “do more with leading coaching courses for USA Rugby as well as continuing my rugby education.”
Stir the Pot
I’ll conclude with a comedic anecdote that illustrates the dedication of Fitz. Any Fury who has ever taken part in Ruggerfest has heard this legendary story, and aspired to such levels of dedication to team and tournament. Typed up years ago and copied/pasted by subsequent Ruggerfest chairs, this is a requisite part of the Ruggerfest-Eve annual email.
Strive for the “Stir the Pot” award. What, you may ask, is this? Well, this honor goes to the Fury who contributes significantly, while asking for no praise or recognition in return. As I enjoy recounting Furies legend, for those of you who don’t know the story, it went something like this: Picture Ruggerfest Sunday, seems like we’ve been at the pitch for days on end– setting up tents, goalposts, cones, ropes, raking grass, you name it. Someone points out that the Port-O-Johns are so full that one can hardly sit down or even do the “gas station squat” without risking coming in contact with the type of debris one typically finds in the Port-O-Johns at the end of a long tournament. Sometime later someone remarks that the Port-O-John levels have dissipated to a tolerable level, and as we all marvel at how the levels could be receding, finally our captain, Nancy Fitz, mumbles under her breath that she took a stick and “stirred the pot.” After we fell on the ground laughing, we came to realize that Nancy’s act embodies the true Fury spirit which makes this tournament and our other ventures such a great success: The doing of the right thing, the thing that needs done, no matter how unpleasant, simply because it’s what’s needed at the moment, and the right thing to do.