CWU News

CWU Names New Women's Rugby Coach

Following a nationwide search, Mel Denham has been hired as the new women's rugby head coach at Central Washington University. Denham, who has served as the head women's rugby coach at American International College (AIC) in Springfield, Massachusetts since 2012, will assume her new post on next month. 

"We're very exited about hiring her," Tony Pacheco, CWU director of rugby, said. "We believe her coaching and playing experience will help us build the women's program here into one that will become regionally and nationally prominent over the next several years." 

Dennis Francois, CWU athletics director, added, "We're extremely excited about the future of our women's rugby program under Mel's leadership and I'm confident that she will help us attract the best and brightest rugby players in the Pacific Northwest and beyond."

At Central, Denham will continue to coach an admittedly physical brand of rugby "with a lot of emphasis on skill development," she said. "The idea is to create good, quality rugby players."

Denham led her AIC team to a third-place finish in the USA Rugby Division 1 national tournament earlier this month, which, in understatement, she called, "a good season." She added, "This is the right time in my life to make a move like this [to CWU]. I'm excited about it."

Denham's interest in the CWU job stemmed from the fact that women's rugby at Central is part of the university's intercollegiate athletics program and that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) now classifies women's rugby as an emerging sport.

"I think it's really important for more programs to make this move [into intercollegiate athletics] in order for the 40 teams required for an NCAA national championship to be reached," Denham said, "I'm hoping the success of this [CWU's] program—as a varsity program—will inspire more teams to make the move." 

Denham also served two years as a women's rugby assistant coach at Harvard University, which, during her time there, won the 2011 USA Rugby Division II national championship. She has also worked in USA Rugby's Coach Development Program. In addition, she has a Referee Level 1 Certification.   

As a player, Denham has been a member of USA Rugby's national team since 2007, which has allowed her to gain extensive international experience, including playing in the 2010 Women's World Cup. She is now in training with Team USA for the 2014 World Cup, which comes up in August in Paris. Denham's CWU assistant coach, Katie Dowty, is also a member of Team USA.

A native of Norwell, Massachusetts, Denham earned a bachelor's degree in environmental geosciences at Bridgewater State University.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, CWU Athletics, 509-963-1487,

May 21, 2014