2020-21 TERRY O’REILLY MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT
From a competitive cheerleader to a tough rugger, Ava Denner took a leap of faith that changed her life. Once a shy and easily intimidated girl, Ava found her voice and saw her confidence flourish both on and off the pitch once she transitioned to rugby. She attributes the game of rugby to presenting her with lifelong lessons, friendships, and new perspectives that could not be gained or taught any way else.
Denner played her first season of rugby with the Iowa Select Side, the Iowa Hawkettes and would go on to win both a Midwest Championship and Minnesota Championship with her teammates. In her second season, Ava served as a co-captain on both the Iowa Hawkettes and the Roosevelt High School Girls Rugby team. In this same season, she would compete to win another Midwest Championship, an Iowa State Championship with Roosevelt High School Girls Rugby, garnered All-State and Elite team honors, was selected to play for the Midwest Thunderbird select side, and played for the American Rugby Pro Training Center at the North American Invitational 7s Tournament in Salt Lake City. Her senior year would bring similar honors and accomplishments and would also include selection to play for Stars Rugby 7s at the New York 7s and an invitation to play in Portugal U19 XVs with U.S.A. Schools.
Off the pitch, Denner was a three-time track and field letter winner for Roosevelt High School and earned honors as captain and an academic all-state athlete in the sport. She also participated in competitive cheer and appeared on the school cheerleading team. She was an active member of the National Honors Society and volunteered often at organizations like Meals from the Heartland, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House and Joppa Meals for the Homeless. “A lot of kids try to be leaders, but to Ava it comes naturally. The other girls on the team are quick to realize that Ava is a teammate in the truest sense of the word.
Ava leads by example and is extremely competitive on the track and on the rugby field, which breeds respect and admiration among Ava’s peers. When an athlete can combine outstanding leadership traits, being a naturally gifted athlete, and a willingness to grow and learn, you know you have something special. Ava is truly special in many ways,” said Briana Berryhill, former Assistant Coach for Roosevelt High School Track and Field and Cross Country.
Denner will continue her rugby career at Lindenwood University while majoring in chemistry. She intends to pursue a career goal of becoming a pharmacist and following her passion of helping others. Ava looks forward to improving her rugby skills and maximizing the longevity and advancement of her rugby career. She has aspirations of one day coaching her own rugby team, but in the meantime is focused on becoming the best player and teammate at the collegiate level. “Ava has been a great addition to our culture here at Lindenwood. She is a hard worker, willing to learn and adjust to new concepts and is always looking to continue to grow her game. She always brings a very positive energy to the training sessions and looks to uplift her teammates and those around her,” said Billy Nicholas, Head Coach for Lindenwood Women’s Rugby.