Mary DiStanislao doesn't need to be the coach of the women's club rugby team. She already has a full-time job as Penn's associate athletic director, overseeing women's athletics and nearly half of all varsity sports, including the men's and women's basketball programs. DiStanislao doesn't need to pad her coaching resume, either. Somehow, women's club rugby probably doesn't look so impressive when its stacked up against a work experience list that includes more than a decade behind the bench of two different Division I women's basketball programs -- and two Big Ten championships to boot. No matter. Distanislao wouldn't miss her current sideline engagement for the world. "I'm really busy, and this just makes me busier. But I love it," she said. "It's teaching, it's sharing, it's a good time and doing something unique." Since the beginning of the semester, DiStanislao has been in charge of the women's rugby team -- a job she quickly agreed to take on when a few team members offered her the position last summer. Although DiStanislao had never coached rugby, she's been an avid player for more than 20 years and was excited to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the game. It also provided her with somewhat of a challenge, since about 15 of the 20 girls on the Penn team had never even played before coming to college. But more than that, coaching rugby has allowed DiStanislao the opportunity to briefly step out of the pressure-cooker environment of Division I athletics and revisit her past love for coaching. A two-sport athlete at Rutgers University in basketball and field hockey, DiStanislao entered coaching almost as soon as she hung up her game jerseys. In 1976, she was named head coach at Northwestern University at the tender age of 23, where she took her team to two women's Big Ten championships in four years. She moved on to Notre Dame in 1980, where she took the Fighting Irish women's basketball program from Division III to a top-20 Division I program in seven years before leaving basketball altogether for the corporate world. She wound up in Weightman Hall last fall, after a brief stint as the associate director of the Wharton Career Management program. But while coaching in the high-stakes world of NCAA basketball was fun, DiStanislao says nothing is more fun than teaching young weekend warriors, who simply play for the love of the game. "The Division I level is just much more competitive," she said. "You travel with an entourage. Your time is heavily scheduled; you practice five times a week." "There are certain impromptu elements that are removed at the varsity level by necessity," she added. "The thing that is wonderful about rugby -- and I think any club sport -- is that it's run by the students." But if you think that means her team is less hungry to win, think again. "Club sport athletes are very serious about what they do," she cautioned, although in another breath she's quick to point out that "rugby is a social sport" that frequently ends with a party that allows the players to get to know their opponents off the field. "Our kids have it within their sights to win the Ivy Championship." And so does DiStanislao. To that end, she's been showing up for practice several times a week, running "her girls" through drills to improve their throwing and catching, encouraging them to run on their own -- and ensuring they have fun. "What's important is that when I turn out for practice, I give them my best and and they give me theirs," she said. Sometimes, that means her evenings are spent shuttling from rugby practice to Penn soccer games and crew practices for her full-time job. "I have some very busy weekends," she admits. But it's never a hassle. After all, DiStanislao says she has the best of all worlds: a great job in the Athletic Department, an enthusiastic rugby team and, most of all, another opportunity to coach.Comments powered by Disqus
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