Despite only graduating high school earlier this month, Chloe Hill-Huse already boasts an impressive rugby CV.
Hill-Huse first came into contact with the game when her mum took her to watch a match between Canada A and Argentina Jaguars in Langford six years ago.
The hosts lost 39-9, but rugby had gained a new supporter. And thanks to a chance encounter with Steph White, Hill-Huse would soon turn out for Castaway Wanderers Under-14s.
She has since thrown herself into all aspects of the game. Her abilities as a front-row forward have yielded representative honours for British Columbia (BC) and a Canada U18 cap, while she has coached extensively and is a BC Rugby Union certified Level 1 referee.
Hill-Huse hopes to continue her rugby journey at the University of Victoria from September, and is confident she can continue her impressive on-pitch development as both a player and official.
“I heard recently that Nigel Owens always said that he was a player and a referee, but he just enjoyed refereeing more so that's what he pursued,” Hill-Huse told World Rugby.
“I'm going to pursue [playing] rugby just as far as I can go, if that means Rugby World Cup, Olympics, or staying at the local level.
“Whatever that means, I want to play for as long and as high up as I can and then transition into maybe more of a full-time referee like Julianne Zussman.”
‘You get pretty nervous’
Role models do not come much better than Zussman, a former Castaway Wanderer herself, who played at three Rugby World Cups before switching her focus to refereeing.
The 33-year-old has since made her HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series officiating debut, and Hill-Huse has been fortunate enough to work with her in domestic competition in BC.
“She did her whole playing career, World Cups, everything. And now she's basically a referee,” Hill-Huse added.
“She was also a mentor to me, just more so a female referee who has controlled the guy's game, who is confident in her ability. And I really enjoy refereeing with her, being on her little three-person team. I really enjoy that.”
Hill-Huse first picked up a referee’s whistle almost by accident, during an academy course she was taking in 2017.
Having earned a certificate, though, she was soon refereeing middle school matches and within a year had started officiating in BC’s senior men’s and women’s leagues.
By her own admission, Hill-Huse is not someone who struggles for confidence, but taking charge of senior matches did take some getting used to.
“It's scary and you get pretty nervous,” the 18-year-old admitted.
“It's still pretty scary for me. It's interesting because I do sometimes get caught just watching the game.”
Hill-Huse made the step up to senior women’s rugby as a player with her club this season, and she believes her experiences as a referee helped her with that transition.
“It's a little bit of a different type of scary, because instead of being in charge of all these people that are older than me and them having to think of me almost higher because I'm the authority, now they think of me as an equal,” she explained.
“But it's more of a physical thing, other than refereeing where it's more of a mental thing. So my whole brain and body are stretched now from putting myself at the high level in both categories.”
It is a challenge that, perhaps unsurprisingly, Hill-Huse has taken in her stride. Although she hasn’t completely come to terms with the fact that she has the opportunity to play and train with test internationals.
“A few of [my team-mates] have played for Canada. So I've watched them on TV and now I'm playing with them,” she added.
“So, I'm kind of like a fan girl in addition to playing with them right beside them on the field.”
If Hill-Huse’s hard work pays off and she is able to emulate Zussman then she may well bring out the “fan girl” in future generations of Canadian women.
“I've gotten the taste and I really enjoyed it. I like wearing the Canada [jersey] it's good,” she said of her U18 experience.
“It makes me feel good and I think I have the ability that I can keep progressing and hopefully get there one day.
“It is a goal of mine. It's gonna take a lot of work, but I think it's attainable.”