Nicole McCardle’s reception upon first stepping onto the rugby field at Endicott College didn’t feature a rolled out red carpet with blaring trumpets.
A teammate sized up the freshman and told her she was pretty small and probably would not play much.
McCardle had an answer. It was the way she performed on the field. Now entering her senior year, she has become one of the nation’s elite players, named a National Small College Rugby Organization All-American the last two years.
What that teammate did not know when she made her very early assessment was that McCardle had experience in the sport well beyond what most players possess when they get to college.
“I grew up with rugby all my life,” McCardle said.
Her father Nick McCardle is a rugby coach and was her coach at various points as she played in leagues while she was a student at Fair Haven Union High School.
McCardle might not look imposing. She stands at 5-foot-5 and weighs 125 pounds.
But the beauty of rugby, she said, is that it is a game where anyone can find a place on the field.
“I feel like anyone of any size, any shape, any speed can play the sport, that there is a position for you,” McCardle said.
Her position is scrum half. She describes it to someone not familiar with rugby as “kind of like a quarterback.”
She was offered a full scholarship to play rugby at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, but fell in love with the ocean-side campus of Endicott in Beverley, Massachusetts.
Endicott also offered her major of athletic training. She wants to go to graduate school for physical therapy.
The school also has a rugby team — another box checked off.
“Any school I went to had to have rugby,” McCardle said.
McCardle appreciates the manner in which rugby is treated at Endicott, even though it is not accorded varsity status.
“We aren’t a varsity team but we have varsity privileges. We are very fortunate,” she said.
That means the players have access to resources like strength coaches.
She came into a great situation as a freshman. The coach at Endicott was Emily Record, someone widely recognized and respected in rugby circles. Record is now the coach of the United States under-20 team.
Carly Baker took over and has kept the program going at a high level.
McCardle’s wealth of rugby experience prior to college was the exception. Only two others on the Endicott team had played the sport before arriving on campus.
That expands McCardle’s role from player to almost being another coach as she tries to help teammates negotiate the steep learning curve. That is why she has been a captain since her sophomore year.
“I am kind of an assistant coach in a way,” she said.
“Most girls are pretty athletic. They have played another sport and are looking to play a sport again.”
One of the challenges is getting them to understand the game.
“Rugby has a lot of intricate rules that they won’t learn until they play,” McCardle said.
“Her knowledge and passion for the game at Endicott is huge,” Baker said. “She made a big impact since she has been here.
“She is a leader on and off the field. You can see it on the field, she is really vocal.”
McCardle did play other sports in high school for the Slaters. She was on the basketball and soccer teams, playing rugby with players from other schools in the spring.
One of her highlights at FHUHS was being on the first girls basketball team to win a state title in program history in 2016.
She said she learned a lot about discipline from Fair Haven girls basketball coach Kyle Wilson.
“He taught us to always be on time,” she said.
He also instilled confidence in the players, McCardle said.
“We weren’t supposed to win that championship,” she said.
“She is a wonderful kid, extremely coachable,” Wilson said.
“She always loved coming to practice.”
Wilson saw those attributes that has made McCardle a three-time captain of the Endicott rugby squad.
“Her leadership skills were very good,” Wilson said.
McCardle might be an All-American, but there are other things to accomplish as she looks ahead to her final college rugby campaign.
Endicott finished third in the NSCRO National Championship this past season.
“I would like to do better than that. I know we can,” McCardle said.
The team gets an early test. They open the season in mid-September against Salve Regina, a team they lost to in the quest for the national championship.
You can be certain that Nicole McCardle will be ready.