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For the love of rugby

Couple devoted to coaching the ‘rough-and-tough’ sport

Rugby brought Brittany and Bill Marnell together, and their love of the sport keeps them coming back to coach at Cal U.

As undergraduates, Brittany ’11, ’12 and Bill ’09, ’18 were both standout players on their club teams. They spoke to each other for the first time while their clubs were watching a Pittsburgh Steelers game together at the women’s rugby house in California Borough.

Neither had played before coming to California, but they were drawn to the free-flowing, full-contact sport that’s contested with little or no protective gear.

“It’s 80 minutes of high-intensity action and constant moving,” Brittany says. “You’re going at it rough-and-tough, banging into other people, getting angry sometimes, and your adrenaline is really going. “

But at the end of the game, regardless of the score, you go out afterward and hang out with the opposing team. There’s such a tight bond.”

Bill relishes the physicality of the game, as well as the ties among players.

“You put your body on the line simply because you love the sport,” he says. “Luckily, my only injury was a broken collarbone against Penn State, so I was fortunate. That was nothing too bad at all.”

A first-grade teacher at Clairton Elementary School, Brittany is in her fourth season coaching the women’s club.

The team has qualified for the National Small College Rugby Organization’s (NSCRO) Women’s 7s National Championships for the past three years. This fall the women reached the NSCRO 15s Allegheny Rugby Union playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Bill, an operations risk officer with Dollar Bank, started out helping Brittany coach the women’s team. Now he’s in his third season as coach of the men’s club, which has reached the NSCRO Three Rivers Conference playoffs for two years in a row.

On a typical practice day, the pair are busy from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. But the Marnells, who are raising their children in Pittsburgh, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve been asked why we don’t coach closer to home, but there’s so much joy in developing new players in the sport you love at your alma mater in the programs you came through,” Bill says. “It’s just an awesome opportunity.”

Brittany agrees, adding that she wants to bring stability to a program that has seen several coaching changes since her playing days.

“I still wanted to be part of the rugby community, and the only team I really wanted to coach was Cal U’s, because I knew the program had potential,” she says.

Both coaches say they’ve made lifelong friends through the sport. In fact, a teammate was the best man at their wedding six years ago.

“It’s a growing sport, but not many people play, so there’s that special bond,” Brittany says. “After a game, you shake hands and build relationships.”

—   By Bruce Wald ’85, information writer at Cal U

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