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Canada's Chloe Hill-Huse: Ready to Conquer the Rugby World

Meet Chloe-Hill Huse.

I know we say this a lot in The Scrum, but remember the name. Hill-Huse is headed for big things in rugby..

We’ve profiled many players in possession of rugby brain; players wired for success, who know where they need to be on the pitch, who intuit the opposition’s step with precision, and who are natural leaders on – and off – the field. At only 18, Hill-Huse is one such player. But she doesn’t just have rugby brain, she is chock-full of elite athleticism and leadership.

Hill-Huse has spent the last five years honing her skills as hooker (predominantly) with the Castaway Wanderers, serving as both captain and assistant team manager. She’s also managed to secure a level as a World Rugby Certified Match Official. Adding to the CV, Hill-Huse has volunteered at the Canada Sevens and the America’s Rugby Championship as a ball person. But that isn’t all. Even more impressive is that Hill-Huse has managed all of this while also being part of the high-performance academies with BCRU and Vikes since 2015.

An elite athlete. A natural-born leader. And only 18.

In case you aren’t already impressed with this talented player, Hill-Huse was selected for the U18 Can-Am tour which took place in late December at the USA Eagles training ground in Chula Vista, California. This tour is earmarked as a pathway to the National Sevens and 15’s, and gives coaches a good idea as to which players to select for an East or West camp this coming Spring (which at the time of publication is severely in doubt due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

And all of this before she graduates high school in June.

Coach Robin MacDowell knows talent. And when he spots a young player he knows is going to go far, he mentors them to help them achieve their goal. And his eagle eye is always spot on. So when he saw Hill-Huse on the pitch, he could see this was a force to be reckoned with. “My first impression of Chloe was a great leader on the field with massive passion for the game. She is years ahead of her age in her approach and professionalism, but it was her sense of team first that impressed me,” said MacDowell.

It might not surprise you to know, given Hill-Huse’s obvious drive, that her sporting focus has not always been singular, though it now appears to be honed on the oval ball. She’s also a field hockey player and umpire, and an experienced yachtsperson. Hill-Huse says, “I got into sailing when I was young because my dad was a professional sailor. I enjoyed it but only sailed at a local level. Similarly to the sports that I played through school, I enjoyed them but never played beyond school or club level. Rugby has been my passion and the sport where I have gone the furthest.”

Don’t assume Hill-Huse is all about athletics. You might be doubly impressed to know that she has also successfully competed in band, and has received accolades during her high school years for dedication to service, athletics, and overall effort.

When asked what drives her to succeed in everything she does, Hill-Huse’s answer seems beyond her years, much like her rugby skills: “I think I excel at aspects of my life because I don’t live or die by the outcome. With rugby I never had the goal of going to the Olympics or the World Cup. I always just played because it was fun and I got to hit people. This reflects in my schoolwork. I try to live a balanced life, I have practice and school basically everyday so I need to make time for both and squeeze in some friend time. I don’t focus on just one thing because I don’t want to get burned out.”

School and life aside, for the foreseeable future, Hill-Huse’s focus is squarely on rugby.

As for the roots, rugby became a thing at 11 when Mom Luticia Hill took her to see Canada play Argentina. By a stroke of good luck, Chloe met Steph White, the first captain of the Women’s 15s, who asked Hill-Huse if she played. The answer was no. White asked the youngster if she wanted to play, and as Chloe says, “the rest was history.”

Enter Castaway Wanderers. Hill-Huse fell in love with the sport at her first practice and excelled quickly. So much so that she was ahead of other players by the time she hit high school, leading to an assist coaching role. This fostered not just a love of coaching but refereeing and team management as well. “Over the last two years my Dad has stepped into the role of team manager for my club,” Hill-Huse says, which gave way to her nickname “Mini Manager.” With pride, Hill-Huse adds, “I helped my Dad with organizing rides for players and making sure that jerseys and water bottles got to games.”

The ultimate goal for Hill-Huse might surprise you.

While the Olympics or World Cup would be great icing on the cake, the actual ultimate goal is to not fall out of love with the sport. “As I look to my future, I know it is going to be in rugby, whether I am playing, refereeing, coaching, commentating, or organizing, I know I never want to lose this feeling.” While it may seem lofty, my money is on Chloe succeeding.

But it’s not all business. Her fondest tour moment was when she was in Chula Vista with the team. One day they scrimmaged on the public beach, and people stopped to watch. “Everyone was laughing, and it wasn’t very serious, but the coaches still expected us to perform well, even on the beach. With our proud matching Canadian training gear we were a big white and red scene.”

As for what’s next, Hill-Huse’s plan is to attend the University of Victoria in the Fall in the Recreation and Health Education program. Fitting. Of course, she’ll try out in August to play for Brittany Waters’ Women Vikes. Among all that, Hill-Huse will also play U18 Tide and with BC for her 4th year at the Western Canadian Championships. It’s not a light schedule, but by now I’m getting the impression that’s the way Hill-Huse prefers it.

But how does the family feel?

Dad Brian Huse shares how Chloe has developed as a person since picking up rugby. He says that as a youngster, fitness and sport were more social activities than anything, and the level of fitness wasn’t as much of a focus. Now, though, fitness, and understanding her own body and its limitations, are tantamount to success. Falling in love with rugby was easy; the atmosphere created by coaches “creating a learning environment disguised as a fun afternoon” became addictive to Chloe. He says, “over time the game became the driver to continue. With her newfound passion for Rugby, Chloe morphed into a student of the game, studying all aspects of the game, including playing, refereeing, leadership, etc…” He’s proud to share that Chloe works constantly on her fitness and “treats her body with a tremendous amount of respect.”

Her parents hope to see Chloe follow her dreams and agree with Hill-Huse on her own assessment that involvement can be anything from playing to coaching, to management and officiating. In terms of the culture their daughter is immersed in, Huse says, “I love how many ex-rugby players give back in a concerted effort to keep the sport going. I love that you can play the game for as long as you want. Old Timers, Touch, etc.” But, he cautions, building the culture around the sport is more important than the singular pathway focus to Olympic or National fame. “More important in my opinion is to ensure there is equal if not more focus on playing the game and building a culture that rugby is founded on. Sportsmanship, comradery, inclusion. More focus on club player development and tours (and all the fun and team bonding that comes along with that), and less focus on high-stress tournaments and lofty goals.”

For Hill-Huse’s part, she loves how much her parents have thrown themselves into rugby. Her Dad is not just the Manager of Castaway Wanderers but the Tide rep team as well. Both folks travel with the teams and also support other players with drives and billets, as well as with clinics and academies and will help further the dream in any way Chloe needs. And she jokes, “they pay!”

Coach MacDowell tells me that Hill-Huse’s wit and personality make her a popular player and strong leader, factors sure to take her far with players and coaches alike. By the end of their first session together, she had him in stitches. Coach MacDowell appreciates the “total package” player. One who can find humour to get through, but who tucks in 100% to get the job done.

Hill-Huse’s favourite player is Brittany Benn, herself a natural-born leader. Benn’s grit and determination are traits Hill-Huse hopes to adopt. She remembers watching a match in which Benn suffered a broken nose: “In the second half she came back in with a big bandage on. I thought it was so impressive that she was playing with a broken nose and finished the game.” She admires Benn’s physicality and bravery as both a player and firefighter and enjoys her “style of go-forward rugby.”

If this is what Chloe Hill-Huse is striving for, Canada is in for a treat.