The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 27, 2013

College rugby: Valley native Mathias part of Penn State juggernaut

Penn State women won fourth title in five seasons


Daily Item

---- — By Eric Shultz

For The Daily Item

Jim Mathias had plenty to smile about on May 4.

An assistant coach on the Penn State women's rugby team, Mathias just saw his team win the 2013 Emirates Airline USA Rugby Women's Collegiate Division I National Championship, defeating Norwich University, 65-10.

But as the Lewisburg native looked back on the national title, the Lady Ruggers' eighth overall and fourth in the last five seasons, he said the most memorable part of the experience was not the victory, but what happened after it.

Sophomore Hope Rogers, who works up to two jobs to help pay for school, was given the tournament's Most Valuable Player honors. That moment stands out the most for Mathias.

"She's had a tough background, and to see her get that trophy as the Most Valuable Player and to see the other players react to that was the most special moment of the tournament," he said.

That players-first attitude, paired with his dedication to the team, is what makes Lady Ruggers head coach Pete Steinberg call Mathias "one of the people that embodies sort of what's really great about the Penn State women's program."

The satisfaction Mathias gets from coaching is also perhaps what keeps him coaching, despite his other commitments.

Mathias has been on the team's coaching staff since 2001. Each season, he makes as many of the twice-a-week practices at Penn State as he can.

"I know Route 192 pretty well," he said.

But coaching the game Mathias loves isn't the only thing on his plate. He is a consultant on the development of the new Miller Recreation and Wellness Center announced in Lewisburg. He is also the chairman of the Integral Yoga Center of Pennsylvania in New Berlin.

Yet, Mathias still makes the trips to Happy Valley. The dedication, Steinberg said, is not for the next championship, but for the players that pass through the team.

"He sees rugby...[as] a great way to develop people, and that's the primary reason that we're doing what we're doing," said Steinberg, who is also head coach of the USA Rugby's women's national team.

That developing occurs away from the game, too.

Mathias meets with certain players and acts as a one-on-one mentor, for more than just rugby strategy.

"That's one of the really important things that I think Jim sees," Steinberg said. "I think that's one of the important things that makes it very difficult for Jim to step away, is the ability to kind of engage with those players one-on-one and not really help them with rugby, but help them with their lives."

All of that, with the help of the rest of the coaching staff and team, has led to a squad whose focus is more on their own performance than championships.

"We actually don't talk much about winning national championships," Steinberg said.

Instead, Mathias sees more importance in the lasting relationships built on the rugby team, which he said can be the defining experience at Penn State for some players.

"The biggest satisfaction I get is just being around a high-performing organization where everybody cares about one another and is really, really part of what I consider a true team," Mathias said.

"If it's only about winning, then if you lose, there's nothing that you gain in the program...I love the experience of winning national championships, but I've also been on the losing side, and I know that it's important for the players to understand what is really valuable in the experience."

So next season, Mathias will take plenty of more drives out to State College. The team will be attempting to pull off an unprecedented third consecutive national title, which it almost earned before losing to Army in 2011's national championship game, 33-29.

But if the feat isn't accomplished, it certainly won't be the end of the world for Mathias.

Beyond the final score, he'll still have plenty of things around him to smile about.

"I couldn't ask for the opportunity to work with more special people and more special organizations than the ones I am right now," Mathias said. "And I say that about all three of them."