Nashville Grizzlies add experience to team roster with veteran coach

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Practice three times a week — sometimes in the rain. Games in the cold. Playing in the mud. Cracked ribs. Bloodied noses. Pulled muscles. The Nashville Grizzlies men’s rugby team could not ask for more dedication from their recently acquired coach Shannon Bustillos.

Bustillos is a collegiate national champion with more than a decade of playing experience and seven years of coaching experience. This experience has been especially important for the Grizzlies inaugural season.

Team President Doug Sladen said the team had gone as far as it could without a coach when she came along. He calls Bustillos “invaluable,” for she inspires the team “to play the best game possible.”

The Grizzlies have returned her dedication and added their own spark of creativity. When inviting Bustillos to be their coach, the Grizzlies didn’t settle for the dull and normal approach: They got down on one knee and “proposed” the coaching position to her. The presentation was irresistible. Bustillos said she “couldn’t say no” to this team, even though she didn’t know any of the guys before the season began.

Coaching inexperienced players is Bustillos’ forte. But the Grizzlies weren’t your average new players. She said the players picked up drills more quickly than usual. By their second game, Bustillos noted they weren’t looking like an all-rookie team anymore. The team credits their coach for helping establish and fortify their basic skills, but Bustillos says the players’ attitude for their fast improvement. “Their camaraderie is amazing,” she said.

Bustillos is not new to the Middle Tennessee rugby scene. She played and coached at MTSU while working on her graduate degree. Bustillos works professionally as an architect. 

The coach is also actively involved with youth rugby through USA Rugby, which has seen its biggest growth in recent years in Tennessee. In fact, the growth has been so significant that Nashville will host USA Rugby’s Youth Conference Dec. 8–10. Coach Bustillos attributes the sport’s success to its providing an off-season outlet to soccer and football players, as well as providing an alternative sport for those who don’t find a fit or a spot in traditional sports.

The Grizzlies wrapped up their fall games at home against Chicago on Nov. 11 and plan to send off the season with a holiday party in December. If you missed that match or just can’t wait for the fall to roll back around, you’re in luck. The Grizzlies will be back in action in the spring. They already have a match set for May 5 against the Minneapolis Mayhem. With Bustillos leading and teaching from the sidelines again, it’s set to be another season of huge improvement.