In the beginning, there were men. And Amie Miramonti.
As an assistant coach for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s men’s club rugby team, Miramonti is the only female coach for a men’s club team in any of the 38 active sport clubs. Within a practice of about 25 men on the team and the other coaches, she can be seen alongside Head Coach, Niko Waqalaivi, and Assistant Coach, Vernon Gene Helt II, grabbing pads and shoving herself into the drills.
“Only half the reason I love rugby is the sport itself, and the other half of it is the community as a rugby player,” Miramonti said. “I have friends all over the country and some overseas. I’ve seen people help strangers move just because they play rugby. I don’t know how to make friends anymore without rugby.”
During COVID-19, a Facebook group started to help support other rugby players’ mental health, she said. Many people recognize that the rugby community is an important part of the game.
“A lot of people relied on it for social support, mental health and so forth,” Miramonti said. “During quarantine, they were like we need to reach out and make sure these people are OK.”
Money talks, and a significant amount has been raised through this tight group of people.
“They’ve since raised like $50,000 for charity,” Miramonti said. “There’s an offshoot group of single rugby players that raised another $8,000 for charity. It’s wild how you can go almost anywhere and if you find rugby people, you immediately have a support group.”
However, that is just the beginning of her testimony to this sport.
IN THE WAY BEGINNING
Amelia “Amie” Miramonti grew up in New Hampshire. In college at the University of Central Florida, she was involved with the sports club council, women’s rugby club, mixed martial arts club, judo club and rock climbing club. Now she is involved in roller derby, rugby and Muay Thai as hobbies.
All these hobbies and sports made her different, and she didn’t mind being thrown in with the guys if that meant she got to play.
“I learned with high school guys, and I was four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than my high school team when I started playing at age 14,” Miramonti said. “I’m used to being the little one.”
She also doesn’t mind getting thrown into the mix of the UNL men’s club rugby drills, either.
On the first day of full-contact practice with the team, Miramonti stood on the field in her cleats and rustic rock climbing T-shirt. Coach Waqalaivi drew up a drill to practice tackling. Players quickly looked at each other with doubt as Miramonti suited up to join them. Soon, Miramonti would engrave an image into the brains of every man on the team. Swiftly, completely and without hesitation, she tackled a 6-foot hairy-chested man 10-12 years younger. It did not phase her, but it did earn her more respect from the team.
“Every time Niko introduces me at the beginning of the semester he says, ‘You know, you might be wondering why there’s a girl out here, but let me tell you, she’ll take you down,’” said Miramonti, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s of science in exercise physiology from UCF.
Her studies helped her to understand the differences between men and women that the world sees, yet they are not the entire picture, especially in what she sees with rugby.
“There’s exercise science research for comparing men and women, athletes or non-athletes, in terms of strength or muscle development,” Miramonti said.
Much of the current research out there says that men are faster and stronger, she said. But most of those studies do not take into account the differences in training status or athletic history.
“You take any random sample of guys in college, most guys will have more strength training history than a random sample of women that you know,” Miramonti said. “And if you don’t account for those differences, then you’re attributing more to that gender difference than actually is due to gender. You’re attributing training status to it as well.”
There is a gender difference, but it is smaller than most people realize, she said. It is more about taking equal height, muscle and similar characteristics to make true comparisons.
In fact, World Rugby upheld a ban for transgender women playing in women’s rugby, sometime last year, and there was a huge uproar within the community, she said.
“What’s interesting is a lot of it came from men saying that trans women shouldn’t be able to play women’s rugby because it’s dangerous,” Miramonti said. “And most of the women are like, ‘No, let them play.’ Trans women are women. Broadly speaking, we don’t have qualms about it.”
However, some females know how to train better, she said. It turns out that most of those females are still playing women’s rugby after college.
IN THE NOW
Miramonti travels with the Omaha Goats women’s rugby team to St. Louis to play a few games with females there. She shares her time with the Goats as a player and the UNL men’s club rugby team as a coach. But it is 270-pound females who Miramonti faces, on Women’s Division II club teams like the St. Louis Sabres, that she worries about taking down to the ground.
“They have multiple women who are over 200 pounds,” Miramonti said. “And she’s not slow, either. It’s not like she’s just walking down the field. They’re intimidating.”
When she is not away, playing the game herself, she is rooted in Lincoln, studying for her doctoral degree in exercise physiology and nutrition or coaching this team.
“This year, she’s been one of our assistants for the forwards, so I work with her a lot,” junior forward Will Beiermann said. “She brings a lot of intensity to every practice. She’s very involved. And she’s always ready to step in and point out any problems we will be having.”
At this point, some three years later, Miramonti knows her place and knows her positions. The players and coaches get that sense, too.
“She’s definitely a player’s coach,” Beiermann said. “She tries to get to know us and she gets really good at working with us individually.”
“She provides a fresh perspective with a different way to think about communicating,” Helt added.
IN THE FUTURE
This fall, the team finished eighth overall in the Heart of America Conference. The spring semester will bring a new season; games will be played with seven men instead of 15 on the field during the fall.
“They’ve got a lot of athleticism and potential to develop,” Miramonti said. “A couple of years ago, they went to nationals for sevens, which is the smaller version that’s in the Olympics, but it’s on the same size field.”
Looking toward her future in coaching this team, she said she anticipates the time when practice reflects in the game and movements start to flow better.
“They’ve kind of come close to putting a lot of things together,” Miramonti said. “It would be good to see it click.”
In the end, no sport comes close to rugby in her eyes, she said.
But as the money fades, a more physical reality surfaces. Eventually, bodies will give out. Strength training may come into play as to how soon a body will start to break down, but nevertheless, the day to call it quits comes. That is the time when older players start to look into refereeing positions to stay a part of the rugby community and give back, she said.
“Rugby is kind of unique because there’s a lot of people who want to keep playing but at a certain point, your body is like maybe you’re done,” Miramonti said. “I keep thinking, I’ll retire eventually, but it’s not happening anytime soon.”