Former Norwich rugby star Joya Clark returns as coach of an opponent

Joya Clark was a star player with the Norwich women’s rugby team during its incredible run of six national championships. She was back at Norwich recently as a coach leading her Central Washington team to a big victory over her former coaches and team.

Joya Clark was a star player with the Norwich women’s rugby team during its incredible run of six national championships. She was back at Norwich recently as a coach leading her Central Washington team to a big victory over her former coaches and team.

On Oct. 1, Norwich’s Joya Clark came back to her home pitch on the opposite side of the field as an alumna, and as an opposing coach – and a winning one too.

Clark, a class of 2014 alumna, spent her time academically as a civilian criminal justice major at Norwich University, and in athletics as a leading member of a tough and historic women’s rugby team.

Clark graduated in 2014 in Norwich as one of the most decorated players in collegiate rugby history. She helped guide Norwich to a combined six national championships between 7s and 15s over her four-year career.

“The reason I was attracted to the school was that it was small and tucked away Vermont,” Clark said, “It all of what I was looking for, in a higher education, and then when you paired that with the opportunity to compete at the highest level of rugby it had to offer at the time.”

Her main goal besides academics was to play rugby at a varsity level.

“I believed it to be important to be a part of the University that supported rugby through its athletic department,” Clark said. “As for someone who always struggled to focus in the classroom, it was important to be a name, not a number, to a professor. The relationships I soon then formed with my professors not only encouraged me to succeed in their courses, but this enabled me to perform my best on-field as well.”

On the pitch, she played left wing as number 11 for the Cadets.

Clark’s competitive nature helped drive her to be constantly bettering herself not only on the field but also off the field.

“Rugby was a great balance for a student just like me being a criminal justice major,” Clark said. It was light enough work load where it was still challenging enough. While she was here she helped on the campus activities board which helps put on event on and off campus for students to participate.

“During her time here at Norwich she was an all-star and she made the news on campus sports-wise for her game play,” said Jim Black, a senior communication major, “She was always professional and very open to help students get active in campus life and you could also see this on the field too.”

Clark’s coaching career began with a conversation during her senior year at Norwich, “Coach (Bob) Weggler approached me and asked if I wanted to coach. I said, ‘yes’…This allowed me to coach the men’s team while still being a player and a student,” said Clark. The following year she joined the coaching staff for the rugby teams. “I coached for two years at Norwich,” Clark said, “This was a great start to a new career path.”

Clark is now part of the coaching staff as the assistant coach of the Central Washington women’s rugby team. “This is a really exciting team to coach. I am coaching a team that I played against that was the same caliber as I was when I played,” Clark said.

“I went from coaching a mid-level team to the highest quality level of a team could become,” said Clark. This was a big step up from coaching with the men’s team; most of the men’s team were new to rugby and only a hand full were good players.

In regards to coaching the men’s team, Clark said, “A lot of what I coached was the basics but still coaching them at a high level of playing.” Central Washington has only been a varsity team for about three years’ now. “We are on the up and rise currently right now,” Clark said.

On Oct. 1, Central Washington played Norwich on the Dog River Pitch.

“Seeing coach (Austin) Hall again was a nostalgic moment for me when we came on to the field and it was interesting to be on the other side of the pitch,” said Clark. For a lot of the women on the Washington team, this was their first time out to eastern part of the country. She admits it was an unusual feeling to come back and play against her old coaches and team. “I was always on his side, never against him,” Clark said.

“We played professional and overall it was a cool experience as a whole,” said Clark, who noted the game was played on Saturday of Parent and Family weekend, allowing alumni to come back and watch the game.

Her new team apparently has learned well. Central Washington defeated the women Cadets by a score of 83-18.

“If given the opportunity to come back at some point to come a coach I would. I love Norwich and granted I did leave, but that was to give me a chance to branch off from there. I love Vermont and most of all I love Norwich. I enjoy and am also comfortable with the university and the way they play together as a team,” Clark said.

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