As Joya Clark peers out through the little window on the May 19 Sports Illustrated “Faces In the Crowd” page, there’s no way to tell she does so from the modest height of five feet, three inches.
That is a few inches shy of what the U.S. National team is looking for. Otherwise, the Scotia native and recent Norwich University graduate may have considered continuing her playing career.
She’s already accomplished quite a bit, despite those few inches. She earned mention in the magazine because she became Norwich’s career record holder in tries with 140, leading the Cadets to a 40-0 record and three national championships during her senior year.
To manage that success against sometimes larger, sometimes faster opponents in as physical a sport as rugby, one must develop a good sense of how the game works and how to play it intelligently. That is the attribute Clark now plans on employing as she pursues coaching.
“I’m very small. I’m big for my size — I have a lot of muscle mass — but [the National team] wants girls who are 5-8 or 5-10,” Clark said. “That’s five inches on me, and I can’t really compete with that. Also, they want girls who are faster than me. I’m fast, but I’m not lightning fast. It’s all these little things that add up and make me a player they don’t really want.”
Clark can’t say exactly which program she will be coaching with in the fall because the official announcement has not been made, but she will be an assistant coach with a men’s rugby team.
Playing for the Cadets, who have just one coach — head coach Austin Hall — means the players have to take a leadership role, as well, and help each other out. Clark said the players routinely offered each other pointers and tips if they saw something that might help a teammate.
“I’d see stuff we were doing, and I would think about how we could do it better,” Clark said. “That’s what really pushed me into thinking more about coaching and how I can get other people to think the same way and make themselves better players. I want to coach women’s college rugby, but coaching men will give me great experience. That’s why I’m excited to do that.”
In all, the Cadets earned six championships during Clark’s time with the program. She finished her career with 95 tries in 15s matches and 45 more in 7s matches.
In the three years Norwich has been playing 7s rugby, the Cadets are 39-0. They were
27-0 in 7s competition this season, claiming the inaugural American Collegiate Rugby Association (ACRA) Division I 7s title, beating Rutgers, 36-10, in the May 4 final.
Norwich also has won three straight USA Rugby 7s championships. In 15s competition, they won the 2012 USA Rugby Division II title and the inaugural ACRA Division I title in 2013.
Clark said playing alongside teammate Rose Bernheim provided her some extra motivation through the years. Bernheim, also a senior this past season, held the tries record before Clark and also appeared in “Faces In the Crowd,” grabbing a spot on the page in the fall of 2012.
“We couldn’t have done it without her,” Clark said. “Her and I rivaled tries throughout my time there. She’d always have 25 tries, and I’d have 24 or 23. We were very competitive, and we would push each other. It’s not like we were trying to see who could score the most, but we definitely liked seeing it, at the end of the season, who had the most.”
At the end of this season, she had just about had enough. Clark has been playing rugby since she was a sophomore in high school with a club from Saratoga Springs. At Norwich, she played in the fall and the spring for four years.
Still, she expects carrying a whistle out onto the field in the fall may make her wish
she was carrying a ball instead.
“It was exhausting, so I’m kind of glad it’s done,” she said. “But I know in a couple months from now, I’m going to wish I was back.”