Any catastrophic accident would keep the average person down. But not Katherine Aversano. After a long and grueling recovery after a sky-diving accident, Kat rediscovered rugby and the joy and confidence it ignited in her. Knowing that her playing days were over, she decided to bring her passion to the next generation of women and girls through coaching. Kat honed her craft in the high school and club ranks and worked on building relationships in the rugby community. So when her alma mater came calling for its first head coach, Kat embraced the opportunity to lead the Herd Women’s+ Rugby team at Howard University.
“Playing volleyball, basketball, and soccer, I was always one of the more physical people,” Kat said of her initial attraction to rugby. “Just short of getting carded or fouling out all the time. Rugby said don’t hold back. It was a sport that said you don’t have to short yourself, just come out and be as strong as you possibly can.”
When Kat came to the University of Mary Washington for her undergraduate studies, she had every intention of playing volleyball. However, the sport didn’t start until October, and when rugby players came around to the dorms looking for new recruits during the first week of school, Kat gave it a try. Suffice to say, she never saw the volleyball court again and was stuck on the pitch.
After graduation, she pursued a law degree at Howard. Kat remained active by competing in triathlons, but all that came to a grinding halt in 2012. An unfortunate sky-diving accident left her with multiple fractures and injuries that took eight surgeries over a couple of years to recover from.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to run again, and I can’t compete as a solitary person, but I still have my brain and the things I tapped into like resilience and internal strength and stamina,” Kat said. “It just reminded me of playing rugby, how much I missed the game, the strength I got from it, and how much it helped me be confident in myself. When I was that injured, I felt I needed to tap into that element again. If I could pass that on to other athletes and kids trying to find their way, I’m contributing something awesome to the world.”
Kat educated and certified herself in the USA and World Rugby Coaching, even becoming a World Rugby Coach Educator in 2021. She started as the girl’s assistant coach with Fort Hunt High School and eventually became the team’s head coach in 2015. The squad would go on to win multiple 15s and 7s titles. In 2017, Kat began to coach the NOVA Women’s Rugby Club, winning the D1 Women’s Club National Championship in 2019.
Kat’s next step in her rugby journey wasn’t one she was expecting. “During COVID, the Robertson and Sullivan Foundation was created by Carille Guthrie, and that’s all about creating sustainable rugby programs at HBCUs. They planned to start with Howard,” Kat stated. “I put up my hand and said, ‘I’m here in DC, a Howard grad, and I’d be more than happy [to help]’… I said if we couldn’t find anyone [to be the head coach], I would sign on to Howard and focus on giving that program the sustainable background and backbone that it needs. It melds the two big things I care about which is the game and bringing the game to communities that really haven’t been invited to the table.”
Community is one of the things Kat is most passionate about. “The one thing that’s really wonderful to see at Howard with the program is how much it’s brought the community together. Part of that is those relationships I had beforehand, and when Howard came along, I needed to lean to them to give us some meat behind everything. I see that because I was able to lend a hand to many different programs before, when I needed the assistance and support, the community was able to do that.”
“One thing I can do in the DMV is get the community talking to each other and recognizing that when one team shines, we all shine,” Kat continued. “Really make rugby itself have a good presence in the DMV… DC has an exciting, wonderful community full of intelligent people who want to support good causes, and that’s what rugby can do. We can come together and elevate what the sport means, especially to those who don’t know much about it.”
As rugby continues to grow within the United States, Kat has a tight finger on the pulse of how administration within the rugby community needs to pivot and improve to get the sport to the next level.
“The biggest obstacle for rugby in the US is that we are not organized, we don’t present ourselves professionally, and especially when you are talking youth and high school, you are selling a sport to parents,” Kat explains. “When you can’t put out a schedule three months when the kids are going to play, you are not going to get on that parent’s schedule. In the more, gendered factor, while the game itself is equitable in the rules, the equipment, and the field, the way men and women approach the game and what it means to them is vastly different. For women, it does tend to be an identity. It helps them become more confident, more steadfast in who they are as a person. So the depth of love that women have for this game is so immense. We have protected it with every ounce of our being for decades and that’s a big thing that I’ve seen with the Women’s Rugby History Project that I work on with the US Women’s Rugby Foundation.”
One of the people Kat has impacted is Howard Women’s captain Takunda Rusike. “Immediately, I knew she had a lot of knowledge about rugby, and growing the women’s game specifically,” Takunda said. “There are a lot of things that make Coach Kat a great coach, but I’d say the biggest thing is how she pushes her foot on the gas, encouraging myself and the team to push harder.”
“Already as a new team, the growth has been exponential, and it is because of how Coach Kat pushes us to be better than our best,” Takunda said. “A large lesson I’ve taken away from Coach Kat is the importance of effort, and consistent effort has in achieving goals, especially in women’s rugby where we do have to push for a spot.”
While rugby has plenty growing up to do in various areas, it’s still meant to bring people together for a common goal. “I’ve seen tons of different people come and try rugby,” Kat reflected. “We’ve had cheerleaders, drama kids, your typical jock girls, and everybody comes out and loves the game for something different. So any time we get a rookie, I tell them to give us three practices because there’s a lot to love about this game. If we don’t cover a certain skill in the first practice, you might not get to it until the second or third practice, and that might be the thing you love about rugby.”
“Come give it a try,” Kat concluded. “I think it’s great to learn to deal with mistakes and keep going, to learn to get knocked down and get back up. You are one person out of 15 on a pitch, all with the same goal. You are there to protect each other, and there is no other team full-contact sport that’s like that, especially for women.”