Chuckanut Bay rugby coach Rocky Den Hartog couldn’t quite find the right words to describe what makes Daja Curtis, who he’s coached for several years, so successful.
“Daja is a powerhouse in herself. She is... Oh boy. She is just a dynamite player,” Den Hartog said in a phone interview. “She brings a quality to the game. She brings spirit. She never quits. Gosh I don’t know; ask me an easier question.”
Curtis has been playing rugby for nine years. She recently committed to Central Washington University to play for the Wildcats’ rugby squad, making the upcoming CAN-AM Summer Sevens Tournament, which takes place on Saturday, July 11, at the Bellingham Rugby and Polo Fields in Ferndale, her last in Whatcom County — “my last big hurrah,” she said in a phone interview.
It’s also Whatcom County’s last chance to see one of the best — if not the best — girls’ rugby player to grace the Chuckanut Rugby club. The 18-year-old is the perfect blend of speed, power, quickness and agility, Den Hartog said, and has the chance to eventually play at the national level.
Den Hartog likened Curtis to Titi Lamositele, who went to Sehome High School, dominated for Chuckanut rugby and now plays for the United States National Team.
“She’s got the potential to go as far as she wants to go with it,” Den Hartog said. “As Much as she loves the game, I think she’ll go as far as she can.”
So what did Curtis have to say about eventually making her way to the national stage?
“That’s a goal of mine,” she said. “I just got to keep pushing myself and keep getting better every year I go.”
Curtis has already been competing for the Washington Loggers — the de facto all-star team for the state — for the past few seasons, although she’ll compete with the Chuckanut Bay women’s team on Saturday.
She got the opportunity to go to a camp in Colorado for the top 50 high school rugby players in the nation, where she ran into CWU coach Mel Dunham, who eventually offered her a spot on the team.
It’s clear Davis has excelled in the sport at a rapid pace, something she attributes to starting out with the Boys and Girls’ Club rugby team, where she was the only female.
“For the first couple years, I had to play with the boys. I had to keep up, because the boys might say ‘Oh I’m not going to pass to her,’” Davis explained. “I wanted to be good so they would want to pass to me. Keeping up with the boys is what made me want to be better.”
Once Curtis was old enough to play with the girls, she already brought in a great skillset and she immediately thrived.
“My skill was really good,” Curtis said. “Learning with the boys, they hit harder and stuff, so my tackling was definitely pretty good.”
But Curtis brought something in her years, that’s been invaluable to Chuckanut Bay.
“What it does for us is she gets talking about it through school or through work and it brings girls out that want to play,” Den Hartog said. “Her passion for the game is oh boy. ... She loves the game.”
And loving the sport of rugby is becoming increasingly popular, especially among girls, Den Hartog said. And for good reason.
“There’s no football program for the girls. This gets girls that want a tougher sport,” Den Hartog said. “Also, every player will eventually carry the ball during the game. That kind of stuff brings more people into the game. You don’t have to be 250 pounds. You can be 5-foot-2 and 90 pounds and still have a place to play in the game.”
At its heart, that’s what the Can-Am Tournament is about — bringing people into the game. There’s few sports that rival rugby in terms of a family atmosphere and Whatcom County’s biggest rugby event — one that’s in its 37th year — is no different.
On Saturday, that rugby spirit will be on full display, exhibited particularly by Curtis, who will take part in her last Whatcom County tournament — even if its her first in the Can-Am.
Reach Joshua Hart at 360-715-2238 or firstname.lastname@example.org.