WILMINGTON, N.C. –
Captain Kate Herren strikes the imposing model of a Marine – lean, energetic, and a look of determination in her eyes as she faces her opponents. Advancing up the field with her fellow Marines, she and her team seem unstoppable; taking blow after blow they move forward, getting knocked down but never staying down, all with the goal of victory foremost in mind.
The scene could have easily played out on any battlefield the world over, but Herren and her Marines temporarily traded their plate carriers for jerseys and their rifles for a rugby ball, to compete in the first Armed Forces Women’s Rugby Championship July 5-7 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
While a formidable competitor on the pitch, Herren’s first sport was not rugby.
“I’m a soccer player primarily; I grew up playing it my whole life, played it at the Naval Academy,” said Herren. “In 2015 [Armed Forces Sports went to] the 6th CISM Military World Games. So I put in my application, went to tryouts, made the team, and we competed in Mungyeong, South Korea.”
After the 6th CISM Games, Herren deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Persian Gulf leading a Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team before coming back stateside to compete again in the Military World Soccer Championship in Rennes, France in 2016.
But her competitive spirit would lead her to other endeavors.
While attending the Naval Postgraduate School for her master’s degree in space systems and operations, rugby began to pique Herren’s interests.
“I started playing rugby when I was in grad school. We had just watched the 2016 Olympics and I thought, ‘Man, that actually looks pretty fun,’” said Herren, “Some buddies convinced me to go out to try it, and they just kind of connected me with the right people.”
One of those people was Army Capt. Andrew Locke, a Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment, former coach of the Armed Forces Women’s Rugby team, and at the time the assistant coach of the USA Rugby Eagles sevens team at the Olympic Training Center.
“He invited me out to a camp, and the rest is history,” said Herren.
When asked whether any skills transferred from the soccer field to the Rugby pitch, Herren’s service pride shows through.
“I think being a Marine helps; you have that warrior ethos,” said Herren. “You dig deep from a dark place in your heart and just fight through the pain and I think every Marine has been there and knows that. You know, the grit on the soccer field – it’s just contact – and switching over to rugby, you’ve got to be able hit and be hit and love it to get back up and play again. With each play you’re working for the people to the left and right of you, just like in the Marine Corps. You just fight.”
With that fighting spirit, Herren currently has her sights on even bigger goals – the U.S. National Rugby Sevens and Fifteens Teams.
“I’ve been down at the Olympic Training Center for last year training with the U.S. team,” said Herren. “That’s the goal. It’s going to be tight, but we’ve got a really strong squad. In our last tournament we just qualified for the 2020 Olympics, so we’re in and I got to be a part of that team to help qualify. That’s what I’m fighting for.”
As much as she enjoys rugby, though, Herren never loses sight of her mission as a Marine.
“We’ll see how rugby goes, but I’ll rejoin the force and hopefully go operational and get back in there, get my hands dirty.”