Those players who attended the Girls High School All American camp, they’re still reeling. Not only had the majority of girls never experienced this type of elite rugby environment before, but no woman before them could call themselves a High School All American. In a tier all her own is Katy Peoples, who was named MVP of the culminating Stars vs. Stripes match, the first of its kind.
The 18-year-old Colorado native started playing rugby in 8th grade, when Summit coach Karl Barth assured her she was talented enough to play up with his high school team. The perennial state champions, Peoples has helped the Tigers to five consecutive titles and to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) twice.
Peoples’ senior year has been especially distinguished. She was recognized for her academic achievements with the Colorado Youth Rugby Association’s Colorado Student Athlete Award. On the field, she was named to the Girls High School NIT All-Tournament team, and then following a strong performance at the Rocky Mountain Challenge, was named an All American. Peoples was surprised, but excited.
“I would have never, ever expected I could get this kind of opportunity,” she said. “So I was honored and really excited. It’s one of those things that only 50 girls can say they were a part of. So I was really excited about the opportunity and really glad I was able to take it, learn there and work there.”
However, it wasn’t all excitement. Peoples was nervous, too. As this was the first Girls’ HSAA camp, Peoples didn’t know quite what to expect – except that there would be 49 other girls just as talented as her. She had been emailed a list containing the roster, and she recognized many of the names from nationals and strong, well known teams.
“I was nervous, because I knew everybody going in. They’re all good rugby players, all elite athletes who are at that level,” Peoples said. “I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to compare against these girls.”
On top of that, the girls were immediately put into a rigorous daily schedule that included several meetings, two practice sessions, and an informational lecture, with little free time between. Peoples said it was hard the first day, but from there she settled into a rhythm and just tried to focus on learning as much as possible. For her and many of the other girls, this was the first time they were exposed to different coaching styles – for the better, says Peoples.
“For me, not having the same coach all the time was awesome, because they explain things in different ways, or different scenarios or different ideas that actually may work better for me. That was great, to be able to maybe look at a new way to do a specific thing that may work better, and improve my skill set.”
She also appreciated learning about sports psychology and nutrition, neither of which she had learned about in much depth before.
These skills the girls learned – plus their raw talent – was apparent on game day at the end of the week.
“[This was] definitely the most talented group of people I’ve seen on one field,” Peoples said. “If you make a mistake, you’re actually going to have to make up for it. There are certain things that I’m used to being able to do easily, like hooking in a scrum, always being able to just win the ball … but it’s no longer like that.”
But, as Peoples would find out, having a lot of talent in one place was a positive thing.
“It was awesome, because [for] my club team there’s never been a lot of competition,” Peoples said. “There was a lot more pressure [at camp], but a good kind of pressure. I think it works on mental toughness, too, more than you’re used to … not letting the little things get in your head. You just play.”
And certainly Peoples lived by this philosophy, staying mentally and physically strong throughout the game and motivating her teammates all the way.
Stars coach Molly McCarthy assured that Peoples deserved the recognition.
“You could tell all week she was really working hard, trying to learn the structure and everything…but when she got on that field, she was a work-horse,” McCarthy said. “Katy wasn’t the one scoring all of the tries, but her hard work was contagious, and that was the reason we were able to get it out to our backline to score. I love that she got MVP as a hooker, that’s not a position that gets as much glory as the backline.”
Even Peoples says she isn’t a showy player – but it doesn’t matter, because in that game, that’s not what counts.
“I’m very much so the type of person who can pick up a teammate and help them, and push them to do better and [encourage] them to give it everything they’ve got and leave it on the field. Because that’s when you play your best games.”
While Peoples feels honored to be named MVP, the biggest thing she took away from the camp was a desire to continue playing rugby.
“I was debating whether to play rugby in college, so I definitely confirmed the fact that I do,” Peoples said. “I’m not sure if I’m going to intently pursue [elite rugby] … but I definitely want to keep it on my radar and continue to work through the pathway and see where that takes me.”
Peoples will be attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., this fall. Now that she has the knowledge of the player pathway, she has a Collegiate All-American title in her sights next – and beyond that, who knows. All that’s sure for now is that she’ll be a name to watch for.