Captain, key player of rugby team dies after recent injury

Yvonne Marquez

The UT Women’s Rugby Club captain died in Kansas City from complications of a head injury last week.

Biology senior Stephanie Flores, 22, was playing with the Texas Rugby Union Under-23 team at a regional tournament on April 10 when she was tackled, hospitalized and taken to the intensive care unit, where she died on April 14.

Texas Rugby Union head coach Traci Schmidtke, who coached Flores for five years, said she selected Flores as an all-star team member because she had outstanding abilities as one of the top 28 players in the state. She said Flores was a practical player and liked to analyze the game.

“She just had a great attitude and leadership on the field,” Schmidtke said. “She made other players on the team comfortable.”

Anna Kunkle, the UT Women’s Rugby Club head coach, said Flores was a fly half, which is a crucial role on the team that makes tactical decisions for the game. Kunkel said she saw Flores’ drive and commitment when Flores took refereeing classes and dedicated herself to being captain of the team.

“She just loved the game,” Kunkel said. “She would email me about how we could improve. She went above and beyond for her teammates. She was a great captain.”

English senior Lyliana Gonzalez met Flores when she was a freshman outside of Gregory Gym. Gonzalez said Flores was recruiting for the rugby team, noticed Gonzalez hovering near the table and asked her to play for the team.

Flores was completing her third degree at UT after graduating last year with English and radio-television-film degrees, Gonzalez said. Gonzalez said Flores had many ambitions she wanted to pursue after graduation, from buying a vineyard in Italy to becoming a doctor.

“She could do anything. She was just that type of person,” Gonzalez said. “It was not if she was going to succeed, but when she was going to succeed.”

Flores was encouraging and played big sister to everyone on the team, Gonzalez said.

“I absolutely love rugby,” a testimonial from Flores said on the club’s website. “Looking back on my years on the team, I can honestly say that sucking it up and getting over the initial bashfulness of showing up to my very first practice was by far the best decision I have ever made while at UT, and I have not regretted it one second.”