For the first time in the program’s history, the USA U20s won the Women’s College All Star Championship, and did so convincingly. The junior Eagles outscored opponents 109-17 en route to the title.
The players convened in Glendale, Colo., on Monday evening, and saw 15-year-olds like Megan Johnson and Johni Durban alongside U20 veterans like Katie Johnson and Katie Humphreys. USA U20 interim coach Danielle Miller was truly impressed how the older girls worked overtime to inaugurate the newcomers, whether it was familiarizing them with terminology or explaining nuances of specific movement. The players exhibited great communication, and that showed on the field.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first game, but we were also able to capitalize on their mistakes,” Miller said of the 53-17 win over the Mid-Atlantic during the Tier 1 semifinals. “We were able to use our athletic ability to recover before we got scored on too much. We spent a lot of time going over the game plan before the second match, and the players adapted and cleaned up the issues.”
The U20s brought the same attacking power to the championship final against the West, whose 24-15 come-from-behind win against the Midwest earned the Mustangs the berth. The West was physical, powerful and resilient, but once the USA shored up their defensive lapses from their semifinal, their attack overwhelmed the West, and a 56-0 shutout resulted. Rose Bernheim (2), Katie Johnson, Maggie Myles, Natalie Kosko, Amee Svatos and Casey Karl all scored tries. Meya Bizer led all point scorers with 21 on a try, five conversions and two penalties.
“Meya came off of 7s in London Amsterdam and brought great, supportive leadership,” Miller said of the tournament MVP. “She communicated with the whole backline and brought some structure back when it got frenzied and lost. She’s a phenomenal player, and she played to the top of her ability, which is what we expect of her.”
Bizer got a lot of support from team captain Katie Humphreys, who did well the engender the welcoming team culture, and field captain Katie Johnson, who is always dynamic and mature on the pitch.
Of the younger players, Miller was impressed with flyhalf Cassidy Meyers of Kent, Wash. The NCASC marked the 17-year-old’s first event with the U20s, and she played with a calmness and heightened level of decision-making found in older players. She’s established herself as the best flyhalf in the U20 program.
“It was athleticism mixed with their communication and adaptability over the whole weekend,” Miller reflected on what gave the USA an edge over their opponents. “Athleticism can only get you so far, because if people are playing as individuals, you won’t be as successful. They adapted to working with new people, a new game plan, and communicated so that everyone was on the same page.”
The USA U20s won’t have any international fixtures this year, as 2012 is dedicated to individual development, akin to the senior national team’s agenda.
“We’re focusing on getting them ready for the world cup and Olympics, so if they’re going to project upward, they need to know what it means to be an elite athlete,” Miller said. “We want to give them a good foundation, so we talk about the mental skills, strength and conditioning, nutrition, financial commitments, support systems – everything it takes to get selected.”
Miller is the interim coach for the USA U20s, as longtime head coach Bryn Chivers stepped down in early April. Much of the same staff has remained onboard, including backs coach Austin Hall (Norwich University) and defensive coach Karl Barth (Summit), so the transition has been as smooth as possible as far as the athletes are concerned. In August, USA Rugby will launch the official search for a permanent USA U20 coach.
But for now, Miller is enjoying her time at the helm, and she pleasantly reflects on her time in the age-grade system.
“There was no U20/19 program when I was playing, but I was in the U23 program from 2001-03,” Miller said. “Today, players are coming to camp with more skill and know more rugby than I have ever seen. I hooked up with the U20 program in 2007, and even from then to now, the skill of players coming in has increased tenfold. It makes it difficult for us national selectors!”