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Gallup Navajo woman coaches Albuquerque men’s rugby club

Timaris Montaño is a Gallup woman who fell in love with a sport that is often associated with men.

It was her husband’s passion for rugby that got things rolling.

When the family moved to Arizona, Chee Montaño got active with a Phoenix Rugby club from 1999-2005. When they moved back to Gallup, Timaris’ oldest son, then in eighth grade, asked her to organize a rugby club, so he could play rugby like his dad.

Montaño contacted New Mexico Youth Rugby and said they welcomed her with open arms.

“I believe I was the fifth team in New Mexico to start,” she said.

She thinks that was around 2007.

“You need 15 young men, just to play the match,” she explained. “They started recruiting and it just grew into a team.

“Each person was asked to bring two new recruits. By the third year they had 60 rugby players, including females. We took our first female in 2008,” she said.

Montaño developed her knowledge of rugby by coaching young players. The club she started was active for ten years. She quit coaching that team in 2017. She said the players no longer wanted to be as physical as the earlier players had been.

While still coaching Gallup youth rugby, Montaño organized a national team of Native Americans and indigenous youngsters known as the Indigenous Warriors Rugby Team. They would play international teams annually. Montaño coached her first international match in November 2015 against the Aboriginal Australians in Gallup. In September 2018, the two teams faced off again in Denver, Colorado. Then, in 2019 the competition was against Mexico.

Also in 2019, she took her experience to another level. She was offered and accepted a rugby coaching scholarship that allowed her to train in the United Kingdom with Premiership Rugby, an English professional rugby union competition that consists of 12 clubs and is the top division of the English rugby union system.

Then COVID happened and Montaño said she felt like all that training was going to waste.

“I knew that I was leaning toward going back to coaching rugby,” she said.

But the decision was made when her favorite rugby player sent her four rugby balls. Todd Stranger Clever plays for the United States national team. He grew up in San Jose, California and started the Todd Clever Foundation to help grow rugby, especially in the U.S.

Montaño took the advice of her husband to reach out to one of the men’s teams. She called the Albuquerque Aardvarks.

“Without a second’s hesitation, they welcomed me with open arms,” she said.

She is the first female coach for the Aardvarks and said she loves it. She said she feels like the players are very excited and her opinions are appreciated and utilized.

She attended a non-contact practice March 13 and has met about half the team, so far.

“I feel like we have a good mixture of a competitive team that can actually make a difference on the field,” she told the Gallup Sun, March 16.

Montaño said a tentative competition was cancelled due to the coronavirus. But another has been set for April in Denver, Colorado.

She shared a few facts for those who are not familiar with rugby.

The objective of the game is to get the ball in the opposition’s goal, but the ball can never be thrown forward.

The rugby ball is rounder and fuller than a football.

Whenever there’s a rugby match, there are 30 people, including members of the opposing team, on the field at all times.

Montaño expressed hopes of growing the Aardvarks team’s reach all the way to Gallup. She wants to see Gallup start its own team.

“Maybe one day New Mexico can have a pro team, as well.”

In the meantime, Montaño wants anyone, at any experience or skill level who would like to play rugby, to know they would be welcome. Just show up at practice in Albuquerque.

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