by Becky Kimbrell-Norris
ROLESVILLE — A young rugby player from Rolesville has taken the first steps to a potentially bright future in the sport.
Sixteen-year-old Devin Tomlin has been invited to play this fall with the Glendale Raptors, a premier team, located in Glendale, Colorado, just outside of Denver.
The Raptors, a club level team, play at the nation’s highest level of competition and Tomlin will be a part of the women’s team when they travel across the country to compete.
“Being invited to play for the Raptors is an incredible opportunity that I am so thankful for,” Tomlin said. “I am so honored to be offered a chance to compete with some of America’s top female athletes.”
Tomlin, who will leave for Colorado on Aug. 13, has been a part of the North Raleigh RedHawks Rugby organization for two years and this past season she was a member of the boys U15 team.
“She was the only girl on our team,” said RedHawk coach Andrew Thomas. “I would not have placed her on the team if she was not able to handle the boys at that level.”
“She’s smart and would offload before taking heavy contact,” Thomas added. “However, she was never afraid to mix it up with the boys and mostly they were just trying to catch her.”
Playing with the boys, Tomlin’s speed carried her past many defenders.
“In open field, she’s a force to be reckoned with,” Thomas said.
Tomlin left high school her freshman year to be homeschooled and she graduated this year.
“Devin is a very bright young lady, a dedicated athlete and is extremely focused and a fast learner,” Thomas said. “Combine all those attributes with her speed and I know she’ll go far, very far.”
The Raptors home games are played at Infinity Park’s 4,000 seat stadium and the conference matches the seeding for the USA Rugby National Championship playoffs in November.
This is a phenomenal opportunity for Tomlin, added Thomas. “She is going to have the highest caliber coaching and will also play alongside women with USA experience.”
As a player for the Raptors, Tomlin will get exposure to the national coaches and Thomas expects her to make the women’s U20 national team.
“Spectators and coaches easily recognize her skills and agility on the field,” Thomas said.
Former professional player Andre Snyman, now coach of the men’s Raptors team, noticed Tomlin at a recent rugby camp at North Carolina State University.
“Andre has coached some of the world’s best rugby players and he saw Devin’s speed and her athleticism and offered her the opportunity with the Raptors,” Thomas said.
Tomlin, who plays right wing, says what she loves most about rugby is the pace of the game.
“Every pass, every run and every tackle could change the outcome of the match,” Tomlin said. “It is the risk involved with every second of playing time that makes it such a thrilling sport to play.”
Competing with the guys, Tomlin said, was a great experience.
“I learned a lot and always had the big guys there to support me when I needed it,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for better teammates.”
Rugby is gaining popularity in the United States and Thomas said the girls program is increasing nationally and locally.
He said he plans to add more girls’ teams to the RedHawks organization.
“We are hoping to put together a high school’s 7s tournament for girls in the spring,” Thomas said.
Rugby’s interest has also grown because the sport will be part of the Olympics in 2016 and both men and women will compete.
Thomas said the USA women’s team is ranked fourth in the world and the USA men are 18th in the world standings.
“The sport is definitely growing all over the country and I hope to see more and more girls become interested in the upcoming years,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin is the daughter of Steve Tomlin and Christa Cipolat.