The National All Star 7s Championship is like Labor Day; it signals the end of summer. As the top 7s athletes converge on Chula Vista, Calif., tomorrow, they’ll have one last shot to catch USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt’s attention before the world refocuses on 15s.
Defending champion Mid-Atlantic leads pool A and sports familiar names in Ida Bernstein, captain Beth Black, CJ Hildreth and Lauren Hoeck, all of whom are former/current 7s Eagles.
“I am really excited about this team,” coach Dana Creager said. “We have a lot of experience and a ton of talent. If we play to our potential, we have a good chance at defending our national title.”
Two newer additions to the squad include Laura Miller and Sam Pankey, who both earned their first international caps earlier this month at the Nations Cup.
“This is Sam’s second year on the team, and she is definitely an up-and-coming player,” Creager said of the James River player who earned four XVs caps in Canada. “She gets better every time I watch her play.”
Miller impressed USA Women’s 15s coach Pete Steinberg during Nations Cup, moving from flanker to lock and showcasing her depth of athleticism. 2011 is her first year on the MARFU 7s team, and she’s benefitted from the DC Furies’ expertise, which revolves around former USA Women’s 7s coach Sue Parker.
One would expect the Pacific Coast to give MARFU its toughest game, considering the number of Grizzlies who played on the club 7s title-winning All Blues. Club 7s MVP Kelly Griffin, Irene Gardner, Nathalie Marchino and Phoebe Boone all posed big problems for opponents, and should do so again at NASCs.
That is, if they’re all available. The Pacific Coast, along with a couple of other unions, weren’t informed of the schedule change from Saturday-Sunday to Friday-Saturday. For player/coach Laura Cabrera, this week has been consumed by facilitating flight changes and other last-minute logistics.
“Some were able to do it and others not,” Cabrera said. “With our full team I was expecting at least a top three finish. Now we will just have to see if the girls can handle playing with fewer numbers and increased playing time. I have confidence in their fitness and dynamic running lines. They have trained hard all summer, are coming off a Nationals win, and we hope to take that intensity straight into NASCs.”
The Midwest has its challenges as well. Brendan Brown of the Chicago Griffins is taking over the Thunderbird team in his first territorial appointment, but he has some very experienced players on which to lean. The team sports three RWC Sevens veterans - Christy Ringgenberg, Teena Mastrangelo and Pam Kosanke – more than any other squad in attendance.
“We are bringing a team that mixes some very experienced players with some others just breaking in,” Brown said. “I am confident these two elements will complement each other and create a good combination of veteran guile with youthful exuberance.”
Brown has a great personal investment in the success of Midwest teams and pointed to Jenny Lui as an emblem of the Thunderbird progress.
“Though she is not an unknown, Jenny is at the apex between the newer and more experienced players,” Brown commended. “She is representative of where the Midwest has come from as well as where we are trying to go.”
But no team stretches the experience gap more than Southern California, the final team in pool A. Coach Sheri Hunt has at least two high schoolers – Jamie Garcia and Megan Pinson of Fallbrook HS – on her roster.
“For the last three years I have had players aging from 14-18 mixed in with the seniors,” Hunt said, “and they have performed brilliantly. Many of them have made the US depth chart.”
Sixteen-year-old Pinson is a favorite of USA Women’s U20 coach Bryn Chivers, and if age requirements hadn’t prevented her from participating in last month’s U20 Nations Cup, she would have made the team.
Southern California does a good job of spreading opportunity around the union. Unlike other territories that find the majority of their rosters in one or two clubs, the Griffins have populated its lineup with players from seven different clubs, ranging from high school to Women’s Premier League. Veterans like San Diego Surfers Shaina Turley, who returned from the Nations Cup earlier this month, Val Griffeth and Kirstin Hartos will stabilize the team.
All of the action gets rolling at 10:20 a.m. PCT tomorrow, with knockout rounds beginning at the same time Saturday. Stay tuned for Pool B previews.