Gabby Cantorna, in a league of her own, with the injuries to show

Video posted April 25, 2017 in Sports by Garrett Ross


Gabby Cantorna, when asked how many injuries she’s had in her rugby career, has to pause.

She can’t come up with an exact number.

“Thirty?” Cantorna guesses. “A lot of them are fairly minor injuries like strains, but some of them are more serious. My position is a fly-half, which kind of plays half the role of a quarterback in football, so I get late hit a lot.”

One of the most severe injuries resulted in a raised clavicle, because she separated two joints and the unstable ligaments made it difficult to breathe. As hard as it was for her, she missed significant time and could only sit around her house for a couple months.

Cantorna’s semi-frequent injuries, however, have not held back her career. Cantorna is the reigning Big Ten women’s rugby player of the year.

Not only is she an essential piece to the dominant Penn State team, but she has also played with a handful of national teams and is ranked as one of the best players at her position in the United States for her age group.

That level of competition seems natural to Cantorna.

“There’s really not too much of a difference when it comes to competition,” Cantorna said. “Obviously the national team is a little more intense, but we do a lot of the same stuff.”

Great expectations

And there is no drop-off when it comes to success. After all, Penn State has won 11 national championships, with the team vying for another this year.

That expectation of success doesn’t get to Cantorna.

“I don’t really feel the pressure personally,” Cantorna said. “Some of my teammates do, but I’ve never really felt it. It is a bit of a challenge, though, being the overdog not the underdog, whenever we play.”

And yet, even with the target on their back every time they take the field, the Lions still manage to win at a stunning rate. In the current season, which began in February, Penn State finished the regular season at 13-3.

It is not the amount of wins that the team has amassed that are impressive, but rather the manner in which it does so. The Lions scored 203 points in the first two games of the season against Pittsburgh and Keele University. Their opponents? Both failed to score even once.

In all but one of their 16 regular season games, the Lions held their opponents to 12 or fewer points. Penn State, meanwhile, surpassed 50 points eight separate times.

R2FiYnkgQ2FudG9ybmEgcHJlcGFyZXMgdG8gcHVudCB0aGUgYmFsbCB0byBOb3RyZSBEYW1lIENvbGxlZ2UgYXQgdGhlIFBlbm4gU3RhdGUgcnVnYnkgZmllbGQgb24gU3VuZGF5LCBBcHJpbCAyMy4gUGVubiBTdGF0ZSB3b24sIDYyLTgsIHRvIGFkdmFuY2UgdG8gdGhlIG5hdGlvbmFsIGNoYW1waW9uc2hpcCBzZW1pZmluYWxzLg==Gabby Cantorna prepares to punt the ball to Notre Dame College at the Penn State rugby field on Sunday, April 23. Penn State won, 62-8, to advance to the national championship semifinals. (Photo by Garrett Ross)

Although she is not a captain this semester, Cantorna was voted as one in the fall. Still though, she is no less vocal on the field and does her part to set teammates up for success on every play.

With a combination of speed and power, Cantorna moves fluidly through the field pushing through opposing tackles and flipping the ball to her teammates at the last possible moment before they break off, rumbling home for a score. And when she gets tackled, she’s the first one back up, cheering the team on.

And those 30-some injuries that she’s sustained? They haven’t deterred Cantorna from the sport that’s taught her so much and allowed her so many incredible opportunities.

VIDEO: 'No one is going to stop her from scoring'

Just how good is Cantorna? Her coach, Kate Daley, said she believes that there is no one else in the collegiate game that sees the field as well.

If rugby were a game of chess, the most successful chess players have the ability to think a handful of moves ahead and execute a plan to win.

That's precisely what Cantorna — who Daley describes as "tactically intelligent" — does for the Lions every time she steps on the field.