Profiles and Interviews
Written by Danielle Bessette    Tuesday, 25 June 2013 18:12    PDF Print Write e-mail
Girls HSAAs, an Entry Point for Coaches, Too - P
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

The anticipation mounts as we patiently await the list of invitees to the first-ever Girls’ High School All American (HSAA) Stars and Stripes program (July 9-13, Greeley, Colo.). The community is eager to see what the next class of Eagle hopefuls could look like and the stories that have followed each player to the seminal camp.

Written by Allyn Freeman    Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:04    PDF Print Write e-mail
Heffernan Resigns, Reflects on Career - P
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Kerri Heffernan, Brown women’s coach, resigned this year. A former standout player at Florida State, Beantown, and the Eagles, she started helping the Brown team in 2001 and took over as head coach in 2003. Rugby Magazine posed some exit questions.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Thursday, 03 January 2013 12:30    PDF Print Write e-mail
Ryan Carlyle: Latest 7s Professional - P
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Ryan Carlyle is proof that hard work pays off. The 23-year-old, Nyack, N.Y., native has accepted a professional contract for the USA Women’s 7s team.

2012 ended very differently than the 5’6”, 140 lb. power wing expected when the year began. The University of South Carolina graduate had just finished her first semester of law school, and was still indulging elite rugby by commuting from North Carolina to California for USA 7s camps. She’d been on USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt’s radar for a couple of years now, having debuted for the Eagles at the 2011 Hong Kong 7s tour.

But when American 7s was professionalized in early 2012, Carlyle found herself re-evaluating rugby’s role in her near future.

“Once rugby 7s officially became an Olympic sport, I realized I could have a future playing if I wanted it,” Carlyle said. “Ric approached me at January Elite Trials to talk about my plans. I was limited in my rugby options in the South, and we both knew I needed to be in a place where rugby can become a bigger part of my life.”

Carlyle took some time off from law school and moved back home to New York to consider her options. She recalled Suggitt’s advice: Do whatever makes me happy, and whatever it is that I decide I want to do, I have to jump in with both feet and have fun with it.

As the snow poured over the Northeast, Carlyle’s decision to move to San Diego became much easier.

“Seventy degrees and sunny everyday at the beach sounded pretty nice in that moment,” Carlyle reminisced. “I booked one last coast-to-coast flight, this time a one-way, and was in San Diego the first week of March ready for the 2012 Hong Kong prep camp and my new life in California. If you want to be the best, you have to train with the best.”

Carlyle didn’t make that Hong Kong team, but she did make her intentions clear: Rugby 7s is a top priority. But since she wasn’t a contracted player, she had to field other concerns, like finding a job and joining a domestic club. In that sense, San Diego couldn’t have been a better fit. The San Diego Surfers had welcomed several players who had aspirations to join the Chula Vista crew, including recently contracted Emilie Bydwell and Katie Lorenz. She then joined the staff of Serevi Rugby’s coaching staff.

“I think it says a lot to a coach when you quit your job, drop out of law school, and move 3000 miles across the country, without being offered anything accept the possibility to play and train with the first eight contracted female rugby players,” Carlyle surmised coach Suggitt’s reaction. “If he didn't know then, I'm sure he figured it out when I was at practice every day – if not twice a day – in between jobs and Surfers practice.”

Carlyle was off to a good start. Not only was she training alongside the country’s best 7s players every day, but she was playing with one of the best WPL teams in the country. Carlyle helped the Surfers to a Club 7s National Championship and later captained the 15s side to a fifth place finish at the WPL championship.

But frustration soon set in as the 40-minute commute to the Olympic Training Center and demands from work and the Surfers took their toll. And without access to contracted athletes’ trainers, doctors and recovery procedures, Carlyle saw her training plateau, and her body began to burn out.

As the international competition restarted in the fall, Carlyle wasn’t selected for the China Women’s International Invitational or the Dubai 7s. More frustration, but Carlyle relied on her teammates’ support to keep her afloat.

“I may not have been a resident, but they treated me just the same,” Carlyle said. “We push each other and bring the absolute best out of each other both on and off the field. Watching them grow from being 10 girls from all over the country into a close-knit family of the best rugby players in the country was and still is beyond inspiring.”

The wait and the work eventually paid off, as Suggitt offered Carlyle a contract at the end of 2012.

“I was excited to hear he wanted to see me keep growing as a player and to go further with the program when he invited me to sign as a full-time athlete,” Carlyle said. “I am looking forward to showing the world he made a good investment.”

Carlyle has moved into a condo one mile from the OTC with four other teammates. She’ll continue to coach Serevi youth clinics as her schedule allows.

“Other than that, it’s just another day at the office.”

Written by Jackie Finlan    Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:10    PDF Print Write e-mail
Women Eagle 7s Need More Exposure
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On the one hand, it’s disappointing that the USA Women’s 7s team finished ninth out of 12 teams at the Dubai 7s last weekend. On the other hand, the two losses that relegated the Eagles to the Bowl competition were tough, close games against excellent opponents. What that means is that the Americans aren’t far off; however, their lack of composure saw them miss out on opportunities to close out wins.

“We’re still a little bit naïve regarding international competition, but we’re getting there,” USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt said. “But we’re not hitting the panic button. We lost to Canada in the finals of [the 2012] Amsterdam and Las Vegas 7s; we were ranked #4 coming into Dubai; and we lost two close games. We could have gone to the Cup. We’re going back to the drawing board, refining our fundamentals, decision-making, fitness and will try to analyze what the opposition is doing and exploit them next time.”

Some of that naivety is a product of experience. Against the Netherlands (12-7 loss) and Australia (15-7 loss), there were times when the USA had an advantage in space and numbers, but didn’t realize the opportunity to attack quickly, and instead took the harder road.

“We need to play more games; that’s the bottom line,” Suggitt said. “We need to create domestic competition that keeps taxing and challenging our players, so they’re not shell-shocked by the pace and level of international competition. We’re trying to do that – the club 7s championships were good, and so are the NASCs, and with the college 7s championship in our backyard, that’s three right there. Can we get another half dozen?”

All of the 7s professionals are affected by this lack of exposure; no one is necessarily progressing faster than their teammates. However, Suggitt was particularly pleased with a couple of performances in Dubai.

“Kelly Griffin [photo right, top] had a great tournament,” Suggitt said. “She has a high work rate around the field and does all of the nasty work on the ground. She’s reading the game well. She’s one of our unsung heroes; she doesn’t get recognition, but every minute she’s on the field, she’s not making it easy for anyone [on the opposition]. I love grinders; people who want to work hard.”

Suggitt was also happy with youngster Lauren Doyle [photo right, bottom]. The college senior played in her second international tournament, the first occurring in China in October, and kept up with her veteran counterparts.

“She’s coming along quite well,” Suggitt said. “I’ll have more news on her in a couple of weeks, but she’s been a pleasant find. She’s really picking up the game.”

Doyle’s speed was showcased at sweeper, which also allowed Suggitt to experiment with some of his burners. Captain Vanesha McGee was used in the pack, while Christy Ringgenberg gave hooker a go. Having Ringgenberg on the field beside Bui Baravilala makes for a nice kicking duo, and they’ve got a lot of weapons between the two of them. Suggitt was also happy with Vix Folayan, who started to find her feet in 7s and was fitter when she showed up to camp.

Suggitt was quick to note that everyone did well to clean up their first-up tackles and decision-making on day two, when they defeated China 36-7 in the Bowl semifinals and France 26-12 in the Bowl final.

“We were happy with the character they displayed to rebound and take it China, and then play a physical game against France,” Suggitt said. “We’re not worrying too much about two tough losses. We’ll fix that at the OTC. As we were leaving the dining hall [Sunday in Dubai], all of the girls were sitting around the breakfast table going through their injury review and recovery sessions. There are no days off. They’re a proud bunch and are back in it.”

The Eagles next test will be during the second leg of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in Houston. The players will not only face the same caliber of competition from Dubai, but also do so in front of friends and family, and on home soil.

For more of Ian Muir's photos of the USA at the Dubai 7s, visit the women's album (HERE) or the men's (HERE).

Written by Jackie Finlan    Tuesday, 27 November 2012 14:34    PDF Print Write e-mail
USA Women 7s Poised for Dubai
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

The USA Women’s 7s team is ramping up for the first leg of the IRB Women Sevens World Series in Dubai this weekend. The team departed from the USA on November 23, banking more time than usual to adjust to the time difference and climate.

But more time on the ground isn’t the only improvement we’re seeing during this tour. Coach Ric Suggitt has assembled his most experienced squad since professional 7s players were introduced to the American landscape, and they’ll face the toughest lineup of teams since the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

“There are some mature players on this squad, and our previous captains [Deven Owsiany and Beth Black] have done a really good job getting us to this stage that we are at right now,” Suggitt said. “There are a lot of leaders on this team, and the key is that they are all accountable for their role and fulfilling their responsibilities within the framework of the team.”

Suggitt appointed Vanesha McGee captain for this tour, and the figurehead must ensure that the players function as a unified group. She has all but Kimber Rozier and Kaelene Lundstrum from the Chula Vista group with her, as is joined by veterans Emilie Bydwell, Vix Folayan and Teena Mastrangelo. Lauren Doyle is the lone youngster, who earned her first 7s caps in China a month ago.

As of yesterday, the team had four quality training sessions, according to Suggitt, and the team has made the necessary adjustments from the 15-hour flight. The coach reports that the players are relaxed and looking forward to day one of the tournament.

The Eagles will have little time to settle into their first game against France and will be pushed even harder against the Netherlands. The USA is familiar with both sides, facing them regularly in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, London and Amsterdam. Those games are always close, and often come down to a try or fewer, but the USA is capable of defeating those fellow core teams.

Australia is a different story. The reigning world cup champs have been able to keep the Americans at arms’ length. When the two sides last met at the London 7s, Australia beat the USA 22-5 during pool play. This year, Australia have shown some vulnerability, losing to New Zealand 35-24 in the final of the Oceania Women’s 7s Championship this August. In September, Australia rallied to win the Asia Pacific Women’s 7s Championship 36-17 against Japan, a rematch of a game that went Japan's way earlier in the tournament.

The Eagles' games against France and Netherlands are must-wins, but it’s the third game against Australia that will help pinpoint what progress the USA has made since taking up residence in Chula Vista 10 months ago.

“As usual I would like to see a lot of victories,” Suggitt said. “But as we know, all teams want the same thing when we enter competitions like this one. I am excited for our team to test themselves against the best in the world. This squad has put in the hours at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, and now it is time for them to go out and express themselves.”

The action kicks off Friday at 12:04 p.m. (9:04 p.m. EST) against France, followed by the Netherlands at 4:14 p.m. (1:15 a.m. Saturday) and Australia at 8:42 p.m. (5:42 a.m. Saturday). With three pools of four teams, the field will be reseeded 1-12 for playoffs. The top eight teams will be placed into the Cup bracket, with 1 v 8, 2 v 7, etc., while the bottom four will compete for the bowl.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Tuesday, 27 November 2012 11:39    PDF Print Write e-mail
WNT Disappointed, But Not Deflated
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Heading into the Women’s National Team’s tour of Europe, expectations were set. They weren’t all met, but the trip overseas wasn’t without its merit.

“I think the 1-2 [record] is disappointing,” WNT coach Pete Steinberg said. “However, I think it was a reasonable expectation coming into the tour. As a program, we have focused on player development and not performance. These were the only matches we played this year, and we got what we wanted: a view of where we were.”

So where is the USA? Right now, they are not a top-four team. They could be – there's a good amount of experience in the pool, especially in the forwards, and fitness nor physicality were an issue. But the team performance didn't gel but they didn’t gel.

“The skills issues are across the board,” Steinberg said. “And it is really focused on us playing a faster game. There needs to be a rethink about how to create a more dynamic game in America. We showed that we can play a physical, static game, but when we want to speed it up, we were unable to execute effectively.”

France was able to execute, and that ability evolves when a team enjoys a season of international tests versus yearly tours. To compare, Les Bleus played their eighth and ninth games of the year against the American; the Eagles played in their second and third since August 2011. 

“However I think the staff and players feel that even with those difficulties, we should have played better in the final game,” Steinberg said. “We all learned a lot, and the pressure of playing in the Stade de France on TV was new to most of the players – and I think it affected us in our ability to play. Now we need to use that learning to improve over the next seven months, and we have already started that process.”

The Eagles will hopefully have their chance to avenge their losses on home soil. There are plans to host France in June 2013, before the Nations Cup, so the players who toured have seven months to significantly improve their individual skills and prove they are competitive in a full-time environment.


Written by Jackie Finlan    Wednesday, 14 November 2012 11:12    PDF Print Write e-mail
Lui Preps for USA #9 in Canada
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The USA Women’s National Team has touched down in Europe, assembling for their tour of Italy and France. It’s been more than a year since the Eagles have competed in an international test, and a crop of nine athletes is aiming for their first 15s cap.

But just because you go on tour doesn’t mean you will get a cap. There’s still fierce competition for the start, and if one happens to play a position with a lot of depth, there’s no guarantee that she’ll be rotated in.

That’s what happened to Jenny Lui last year during the Nations Cup. Noted for her play as a center for Chicago North Shore and USA 7s Eagle, she heeded suggestions that she transition to scrumhalf. Her home club already had a couple scrumhalves and were short in the centers, so she saw inconsistent time in the halfback position. It didn’t help that Rugby World Cup veteran Kim Magrini and Seattle star Carrie White were also on the Canadian tour, and the two split the four games against England, South Africa and Canada.

“I didn’t see any game time, but it was a really great learning experience,” Lui said. “It showed me that I wasn’t far enough along in my development as a scrumhalf and that I had to play more games there to learn.”

USA performance coach John Coumbe-Lily recommended that Lui play for a club in Canada, a scenario that she considered seriously once her employer, advertising agency EnergyBBDO, publicized a summer position in their Toronto office.

“My company has always been really supportive, so we were able to make it work,” Lui said.

Coumbe-Lily put Lui in touch the Toronto Scottish, a top women's club in Canada. She showed up to practice, kept her aspirations tucked under her hat, and waited for the opportunity to get time at scrumhalf.

“I didn’t think that was appropriate,” Lui said of imposing her intentions on the Canadian club. “I was coming into their space, so I wanted to do my best to fit in. To just put my head down and work hard and do whatever was needed to make the team better. I played wing, center and even flanker – wherever they needed me. And then took my opportunities at scrumhalf when they came. And they did.”

Lui was satisfied both competitively and socially. The Scottish played a fast, dynamic game against some tough, hard-hitting teams. And the club itself was full of fun, passionate people.

“I'm glad that John pointed me toward the Scottish versus any of the other teams in the region,” Lui said. “I made some great friends there and will always consider the Scottish my Canadian club.”

When she returned to North Shore this past season, she was able to bank more time at scrumhalf due to the previous halfbacks’ retirement and relocation. Lui will still have to contend with White and now former wing Ashley Kmiecik for time in the USA #9 jersey, but she’s worked hard to put herself in a better position than last year.

“It was a great experience, and I learned a lot by playing with a different club and getting a fresh perspective,” Lui reflected. “Playing and being around rugby as much as you can is a great way to improve. I've been playing for over 12 years, and I still learn something new every time I step out there.”

It’s just another example of what the Eagles have to “sacrifice” (although most describe their lives as a labor of love). Lui isn’t the only one who’s gone abroad to diversify their rugby experience; this time last year, D.C. Furies’ Laura Miller was playing with Saracens. And all of the Eagles have been promoting the fundraising drive for tour, which costs $25,000 to operate. Hopefully it all pays off, as the USA plays Italy (Nov. 18) and France twice (Nov 21, 24).

Written by Jackie Finlan    Tuesday, 06 November 2012 00:19    PDF Print Write e-mail
Suggitt Talks China, Dubai & More Contracts
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Reviewing the results from the international 7s tournament in China, one might suspect that the USA Women 7s team would have found better competition internally. But coach Ric Suggitt and squad were grateful for the opportunity to play, and the event played an important role in reintegrating the team back into international play and accustoming the Americans to a well run tournament.

“Remember, China beat us 10-0 three years ago in Las Vegas,” Eagle 7s coach Ric Suggitt tipped his hat to opponents. “We turned the tables around and bested them by 30 points, but we’ve both improved. And South Africa – they gave us a tough game. They’re big, move the ball well, and can run from anywhere. Once they start identifying some real rugby players, they’ll be a contender.”

Fitness, team speed and overall skill level elevated the USA above their competition. The Eagles averaged more than 41 points per game, but that statistic was inflated by the fact that several opponents are still in their development stages.

“It’s funny how history has a way of repeating itself,” Suggitt said. “Where we’re at now is no different than the men’s circuit in 2000. Before the IRB series’ games, the top teams were winning by 50, 60 points, and that’s where we were against teams like Singapore and Thailand.”

With the mix of competition, the event eased the squad back into the international scene, in particular, for Lauren Doyle, who was the only uncapped player on board.

“Lauren did well,” Suggitt affirmed. “We first saw her at a camp in Santa Barbara a couple of years ago, so she’s been on the radar for a while, although she was younger then. She’s always been fast, but now she’s a good size. She’s also very determined, which I really like. She works hard and this seems like something she wants to do. We will take a good look at her for Dubai.”

That’s about as far as Suggitt would venture in hinting toward the squad for the upcoming 7s tour to Dubai, the first leg of the first-ever IRB Women’s Sevens World Series (WSWS). Vix Folayan, Emilie Bydwell and Bex Siebach were the other three non-contracted players who traveled to China, while Kaelene Lundstrum and Vanesha McGee remained in the US. Folayan brings speed; Bydwell brings size; and Siebach is still trying to work her way into a regular position in the pool.

“One reason Bex hasn’t been with us is because she’s been completing her schoolwork,” Suggitt explained why Siebach hadn’t traveled in awhile. “She’s fast and has a great attitude, but there are a few fundamentals we have to work on with her. Then we’ll take a better look. If she immerses herself into the program, there could be an opportunity down the road, but we’re not sure yet.”

What is it that Suggitt’s looking for? The coach indicated that he would like to extend two to five more professional contracts – depending on funding and budget – by January 3, ideally. Suggitt has talked to three candidates thus far, but nothing is final just yet. And that’s where a spot on the Dubai squad could become very advantageous. Kimber Rozier and Lundstrum are attending the WNT 15s’ tour to Europe next week, and so that will open up another two spots for non-contracted players.

That said, the USA have quite the test ahead of them. As wonderful, and foreign, as the China experience was – red carpets, police escorts, filled stadiums – it will be a different world when comparing the competition in Dubai.

“We’ll definitely see a change in Dubai,” Suggitt said. “It’ll be a real eye-popper to see where the Black Ferns are, how the Canucks have come along, what England’s been doing. It’ll be interesting to see what all of the six core teams have done. And then the next eight teams could be core teams, too. Spain, South Africa – they’re good, athletic teams.”

The WSWS is an exciting evolution in women’s 7s and reassures supporters that the IRB is serious about improving the game as it builds toward the Olympics. The USA is on the same track, and the Dubai tournament will help decide who’s going to join the Eagles in Chula Vista in preparation for the World Cup and as a base for their Olympic run.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Friday, 02 November 2012 14:21    PDF Print Write e-mail
Personnel Changes for WNT Tour
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The Women’s National Team is leaving on fall tour to Europe in 11 days, and the travel squad has yet to be released. WNT coach Pete Steinberg will rely on his medical staff to make the final call, as many of the tour participants will playing in the club championships Nov. 9-11, days before the Eagles’ departure.

Sam Pankey
Jess Davis

The preliminary 30-player roster, determined at the Eagles’ September camp, has already seen some adjustments due to injuries sustained during the regular season. New York’s Rebecca Brafman (foot) and Twin Cities’ Sylvia Braaten (knee) suffered late-season injuries, thereby eliminating them from the squad, while Rosie Meisner (New York) and Kitt Wagner (Glendale) are still under observation by medical staff. Meanwhile, Berkeley’s Katy Augustyn, James River’s Sam Pankey and American International College’s Jess Davis have been called up.

Although many of these changes have affected the forwards, Steinberg isn’t too concerned about the overall impact.

“We have a number of World Cup players – Kitt Wagner, Lisa Butts – and we feel like the forwards will be our strength,” Steinberg said. “Our natural game is a defensive one, so if we have an edge in the forwards, then that’s an advantage for us. When you look at when we played England well, it’s because we were able to play in their end. Our goal is to put pressure on the opposition and play in their half.

“We have some young, uncapped players,” Steinberg added, “like Emily Van Gulik, a second row from Berkeley, whose potential we’re really excited about. We’re looking forward to seeing Glendale prop Sarah Wilson, too. She’s someone we’ve been monitoring for a while, and she’s kind of following in the footsteps of Jamie Burke – an All American No. 8 who moves onto prop for the Eagles.”

The backs’ game may struggle, however, as there are several uncapped players who will have to cope with three international tests in six days.

“Look at the backs we had at the Nations Cup – Vanesha McGee, Katie Dowty – we don’t have them now,” Steinberg said. “We’ve got some really good athletes, but their inexperience means it’s going to be a little harder to score some points. So we’ll really lean on senior backs like Amy Daniels. She’s a critical player in terms of leadership and how we play.”

“I’m excited about our backs,” Steinberg reaffirmed. “We have a number of really good playmakers – [flyhalves] Sadie Anderson, Hannah Stolba – and they’re great kickers. We’re excited to have Kimber Rozier and Kaelene Lundstrum joining us from the 7s. It will be interesting to see what 10 months of training in a fulltime environment will bring to the team.”

Rozier impressed as flyhalf for the All American side at the 100-player camp, but Steinberg’s going to try her at fullback. Pankey is officially listed as a center, but she, too, will be giving fullback and flanker a shot. Flexibility is key, and Steinberg’s equally interested in seeing how Stacey Bridges performs at lock – her traditional position – and flanker. Joining her will be Twin Cities teammate Lynelle Kugler, who has scored a league-leading 25 tries from center.

“We’re keeping her at flanker despite her scoring feats at center,” Steinberg laughed. “I understand why, in the domestic game, she’s in the backline – she’s a tremendous flanker. But we feel like she will help us more at flanker.”

It would be somewhat of a miracle if no one suffered any injuries during the club championship weekend, and considering what’s at stake for players, one wonders if it’d be smarter to sit out next weekend.

“I like to lean on the medical staff when it comes to that stuff,” Steinberg said. “They’re checking in with the players regularly. In some cases where players are coming back from injury, we want them to play because they’ve been dormant for six weeks. In other case, we might want to pull them out; however, I’m reluctant to put demands on players and leave it to their discretion.”

That said, Steinberg and staff haven’t asked anyone to sit out of the championship weekend yet.

With all of these personnel concerns – and not to mention a more pressing financial issue (read more here to donate) – it’s important to remain focused on the goal at hand.

“The goal is to win three games,” Steinberg stated. “When you play international matches, they become part of your record, so we have to win. We want to pressure our competitive effort and ability to play with the goal of winning.

“The Nations Cup was a sprint to get ready,” Steinberg reflected on the Eagles’ last international tour. “We’ve had some time with players, built some continuity, and now we want to implement some of our systems in the international environment. We want to see how our approaches in attack and defense work against teams.”

The Eagles will play Italy (Nov. 18) and France twice (Nov. 21 & 24).

Written by Jackie Finlan    Thursday, 13 September 2012 11:35    PDF Print Write e-mail
Player of the Week: Lynelle Kugler
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(Photo: Dropkick Images)

One of the most highly anticipated games of last weekend was the Beantown v Twin Cities Amazons match in Minnesota. The two last met during the 2011 Women’s Premier League semifinals, where a late score allowed the Zons to pull ahead and advance to the final. Fans were eager to see how the two would welcome the rematch.

But it was all Twin Cities, and the home team went on to win 38-14. A big first quarter allowed the Amazons to build a three-try lead, and it wasn’t until after the winning margin had been established that Beantown returned fire.

The Twin Cities pack lost its footing after the first quarter, so the backs had to keep the team moving toward the win. Outside center Lynelle Kugler more than did her part, running in four of the Zons’ six tries, and earning’s Player of the Week nod.

“Lynelle played her usual good game,” Twin Cities coach Roger Bruggemeyer said. “She is a great center who runs good lines. Some games it works, and other games it doesn't work, depends on a lot of game factors. I can't tell you why this game she scored four and other games she doesn't, but I can tell you that she is very consistent and a great striker.

Kugler’s name has been mentioned a lot this year. USA Women National Team Coach Pete Steinberg routinely refers to the 30-year-old when describing his model flanker – agile and aggressive. The former Rugby World Cup Eagle oscillates between loose forward and outside center depending on the team.

“Lynelle started out as a flanker and was moved to center, so she is just returning to her roots,” Bruggemeyer said. “It hasn't really changed her game because she has always had an incredible work rate, loves contact and is a great tackler – the perfect recipe for a flanker or center.”

Keep your eye on Kugler and the Amazons, who’ve made an early bid for top team in their WPL conference.


Written by Jackie Finlan    Tuesday, 07 August 2012 10:14    PDF Print Write e-mail
Women's MVP: Emilie Bydwell
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The best teams have a well oiled game plan on which they rely regardless of the opponent. However there are instances when strategies are tweaked to account for exceptional team strengths, and in some cases, an individual.

Bydwell fending a Berkeley II player during pool play. (Dobson Images)
Bydwell coasting to a try. (Dobson Images)
Bydwell getting through the Middlesex defense. (Dobson Images)

Emilie Bydwell is one such individual. The San Diego player was crucial in driving her side to their first-ever Club 7s Championship, not only as the team’s leading try scorer but also as the emotional core. At 5’10”, she’s a 7s prop and 15s center, and is incredibly difficult to pull down with a full head of steam. She has the strength to fend off the soundest of tacklers when bursting through a mini-gap, and has the finishing speed to take a breakaway the distance. She’s an excellent defender as well, leveling ballcarriers and forcing offenses to avoid challenging the middle.

Bydwell also leads the team in terms of international experience. As a center on the Rugby World Cup squad and prop on the USA 7s team, she raises San Diego’s standard of play and has the composure to right the team’s mentality during adversity.

Supported by former 7s Eagles Ryan Carlyle, Val Griffeth and Katie Lorenz, Bydwell and team knocked out their first two pool play games easily. Bydwell scored four tries during San Diego’s 41-5 victory over the Middlesex Falcons and one more in the Surfers’ 22-0 win over Berkeley II. DC Furies coach Sue Parker watched their games as the two sides prepared for their third pool play game, and made a conscious effort to focus her team’s defense to minimize Bydwell’s influence.

While the Furies couldn’t subdue Bydwell entirely – she scored in the 5th minute – DC’s strategy worked well enough for the 17-7 win and took the top seed out of the pool.

“We were going to have a really hard quarterfinal, whether it was going to be against NOVA or Berkeley, so the worst thing that can happen in a tournament like this is to coast through pool play into a really hard quarter,” Bydwell said after the loss. “So much credit goes to DC, they played outstandingly, and put us under so much pressure. It forced us to check ourselves and really focus in on the quarter.”

The team wasn’t phased, however.

“The culture on this team is unlike any I’ve played on before,” Bydwell said. “We’re talked about it afterward, flushed it out and came back focused for today.”

The loss set up a quarterfinal against defending champion Berkeley, which had shutout pool play opponents Belmont Shore, Morris and NOVA I 103-0. The All Blues took a 5-0 lead thanks to a Vix Folayan breakaway try.

“Our defense was coming up really hard, but we were a little disorganized,” Bydwell said. “Then I threw that quick lineout that was intercepted. For me, that was the moment where thought, ‘OK, we got our second chance. We’ve got to really bring it back and move forward from here.’ After that, we kept that intensity but we had a little more mental focus as a group. That was huge.”

The team settled down and just before the end of regulation, San Diego was rewarded with a corner try from Hannah Lopez.

“We realized that when we swung the ball wide, we didn’t need to score on that first time,” Bydwell said. “We could trust swinging it back and forth, trust our game plan, and as long as we retained possession then it would work for us. And that’s what happened – Lorenz gave Ryan [Carlyle] a really good pop inside, they retained that ball and got it to Hannah, and nobody expected Hannah to run like that.”

The Surfers tied up the game with no time left and forced a sudden-death overtime. Until that try, no one had scored against Berkeley, and San Diego realized they had to repeat the feat in an even more intense situation.

“We were lucky enough to win the coin toss and receive the ball,” Bydwell said. “We said, ‘Let’s just do this right now. Let’s just get it done. We don’t want to be in this game any longer.’ We just need to keep possession, go forward and score. It only took a minute and that’s all we needed.

Lopez scored again, side-stepping defenders from midfield and outracing Folayan in pursuit. San Diego won 10-5 for semifinal berth.

“Having our 20-year-old score those two tries was just like watching your kid grow up in front of you,” Bydwell said. “She was becoming a player who can score two tries in a game like that. That was incredible.”

The Berkeley game was the match of the tournament and gave San Diego the confidence to beat their semifinal opponent 19-5 over the Youngbloodz.

“Based on the people they had, the Youngbloodz were one of the most physical teams,” Bydwell remembered. “We knew we couldn’t play straight-up rugby with them and needed to move the ball. Richie [Walker] managed us well enough that we weren’t too tired for the final. Once we were able to pull away, he made good subs.”

Onto the final, where San Diego had to once again prove themselves. Down 12-7 at the half against a very tenacious Seattle side, the Surfers rallied in the final 10 minutes to pile on 26 unanswered points. Bydwell herself scored two tries and accounted for the first five-pointer that tied up the game. Val Griffeth hit the conversion for the 14-12 lead that they would never surrender.

“The turning point occurred as soon as we got up,” Bydwell said. “Let’s just keep it rolling from here, we thought. Seattle’s a great team. They got to the final and competed really well.”

Bydwell’s performance in the final, putting her team on the front foot to get the rally going, was what earned the power prop the MVP title. It was her first MVP nod of the 27-year-old’s career, and it couldn’t have come at a more memorable event.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Monday, 06 August 2012 12:16    PDF Print Write e-mail
KJ Speaks to Youngbloodz Success
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

It was great to see a few 7s-only clubs at the Women’s Club 7s Championship this weekend. The first-year Youngbloodz finished third, Boston Belles won the Bowl, and the Falcons returned to Middlesex, Mass., with a win in their first trip to nationals. Their formation and inclusion in the championship was necessary, as the women’s landscape continues to develop its depth of 7s teams.

Katie Johnson looks for support during the Youngbloodz's quarterfinal win over North Shore. (Dobson Images)
Sylvia Braaten chips ahead. (Dobson Images)
Youngbloodz scrumhalf Nicole Benjamin gets the ball out against Philly. (Dobson Images)

One would have expected the Belles, which advanced to last year’s final and returned many of those title-match athletes, to be the star of the 7s-only clubs, but it was the Minneapolis-based Youngbloodz that took top honors among their compatriots.

Katie Johnson, long-time USA U20 captain, was the driving force behind the team’s formation. She jumped at the chance to add a women’s side to the successful men’s team when the Midwest announced it would be hosting qualifiers to nationals for the first time in 2012.

“I had been training with the men’s team for three years, and I got sick of whoring with other girls’ teams,” Johnson said after the third-place match, wincing slightly after popping a rib back in place. “I asked Sam [Robinson] to coach the girls, and he thought about it since he has a lot of things going on, but of course he said yes. I was really excited about and was lucky enough to have some of my friends come out.”

Johnson tapped Christy Ringgenberg first. As former USA 7s captain, Johnson knew she’d have the best insight, and fortunately the most enthusiasm, in helping get the team off the ground. Johnson then tapped the Twin Cities Amazons – under which the club is officially CIPPed – to fill out the team.

“I got some more muscle when Sylvia [Braaten] and Stacey [Bridges] decided to join,” Johnson said. “They were a little timid about it at first, since they’re not 7s players, but once I got my brutal hitters, who I love playing with – we built the team off them.”

The women were fortunate enough to have an existing structure on which to lean, and were grateful to incorporate into the men’s training.

“I love it. It’s like a family,” Johnson said of the club. “We do everything together. I’m glad they’re so accepting. Not many men’s teams would like women practicing with them. They push us a lot – they don’t let us get away with anything – and bring us up with them.”

The women’s side relied on the internal competition of the club to get them ready for nationals, as no other Midwest team, save Chicago North Shore, provided the competition necessary to prepare for the level at nationals.

The Youngbloodz took the second seed out of the Midwest, winning the first qualifier then dropping the final two to North Shore. But the Youngbloodz were in good form once they arrived in San Francisco. They started pool play with a 15-12 win over Emerald City, followed with a 21-7 victory over Philadelphia, then sealed the Boston Belles fate to the Bowl competition with a 27-0 shutout, thereby winning Pool B.

“We got into our groove in the third game yesterday,” Johnson reflected on the Belles’ win. “We started trusting each other with our one-man hits, our passes were really great, and we had good communication. That was our game plan, and we pulled it together for the last game of the day.”

Johnson in particular was impressive. The rugby community has known her as a mobile No. 8, but when given more room to run, the tall, lithe breakaway showcased some excellent open-field skills, ability to set-up teammates with great vision, and excellent closing speed on breakaway opponents. Johnson indicated that she wanted to work her way into the USA 7s pool, and USA 7s coach Ric Suggitt certainly took note.

On day two, the Youngbloodz dispatched Midwest rival Chicago North Shore with a 14-0 victory. It was an incredibly physical match, but the hard work of Braaten and Bridges paid dividends in the quarterfinals. The team’s run for the title ended in the semis, when eventual champion San Diego defeated the Youngbloodz 19-5.

“They’re always good competition,” Johnson said of the Surfers. “It was nervewracking watching them on Saturday, but our game was fun. They held their own and had fun with it.”

The Youngbloodz ended on a high note, defeating NOVA I 17-0 for third. Again, a very physical match ensued, but a good scrambling defense and opportunistic offense kept the Minneapolis side out front.

The experience was 100% positive for the Youngbloodz and the team is already looking toward next year.

“We came here only expecting to get better,” Johnson said. “We knew we were going to learn a lot from these teams, and we expected to get beat up, too. We’re going to take a lot from this tournament.”

They got a little beat up, but they certainly delivered more punishment than they received. Congrats to the Youngbloodz on their first nationals’ trip.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Wednesday, 11 July 2012 00:11    PDF Print Write e-mail
Steinberg Reflects on Colo. Assembly
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

The Women’s National Team pulled off a huge event last week, as 75 of the USA’s top athletes and Collegiate All Americans assembled in Greeley, Colo. This assembly was particularly important to the athletes' development, as there are no summer tests scheduled for the Eagles, and the players won't boot up against international competition until after the Women’s Premier League season ends.

Phoebe Boone gives a post-match interview, another duty typical on tour. (USA Rugby photo)

“We did something a little different than what the Women’s National Team has done before,” USA WNT coach Pete Steinberg said. “This was not a development camp; it was a performance camp. The whole experience exceeded our expectations; we did everything we wanted to do.”

Steinberg and staff wanted to recreate the experience of being on an international tour, like the Nations Cup. The 75 senior athletes were broken into three even teams and each competed against the All Americans. On game day, starting lineups were announced, national anthems were played, and post-match interviews were recorded on the sidelines. The test-like matches were followed by recovery days and practice days, and the University of Northern Colorado men’s team provided team liaisons – as well as other support staff – to replicate as many tour details as possible.

One of the greatest assets from which all attendees benefited was the opportunity to review their performances the day after a game. Led by Performance Analyst Johnathan Atkeison, the staff coded each player’s performance and all of their individual involvements, so they’d be available for discussion with staff the following day.

“It’s really good for driving accountability,” Steinberg said. “The level of play got better throughout the week, and by the last game of the week [last Saturday], we saw the highest level of domestic play on USA soil.”

The goal of the video work is to be more data driven, and although Steinberg is still in the process of reviewing everyone’s profile, he did notice that players like New York’s Rosie Meisner and Jackson had a high number of involvements.

Steinberg was particularly pleased with the depth of loose forwards, and Lynelle Kugler once again stood out around the field. He was also excited to reintegrate all the USA 7s residents back into the squad, in particular Vanesha McGee and Jill Potter, who captained her team. Bui Baravilala tried her hand at fullback and impressed onlookers with the progress she’s made since her time at Chula Vista. There were also a handful of All Americans who caught Steinberg’s attention, including BYU prop Monika Jackson and loose forward Katie Johnson, both of whom should be integrated into the senior squad soon.

This assembly was the main selection vehicle for the Eagles’ fall tour to Europe in November.  Steinberg will select around 40 players – a number that will fluctuate based on how USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt wants to coordinate with the Dubai 7s squad – and the group will tune up on Sept. 22. Then the team leaves for Italy and France two days after the WPL final.

Written by Alex Goff    Tuesday, 05 June 2012 22:39    PDF Print Write e-mail
Pacheco Turns Eye on All Americans
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Tony Pacheco?

Yes, Tony Pacheco. Why not? The coach of the Central Washington University 7s team is now the coach of the Collegiate All American 7s team. He has coached CWU to several excellent results in recent times – and, remember, college 7s is still in its infancy.

Written by Alex Goff    Monday, 04 June 2012 21:57    PDF Print Write e-mail
Suniula Still Option at 10, or 12
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Center or flyhalf? That’s a big question around Roland Suniula, and a question that quite possibly doesn’t have an easy answer.

Written by Alex Goff    Monday, 21 May 2012 16:52    PDF Print Write e-mail
Matt Sherman Talks All Americans
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Collegiate All Americans coach Matt Sherman sat down with editor Alex Goff this past weekend to discuss the All Americans program.

This interview audio is available to Premier Members.

Written by Pat Clifton    Monday, 14 May 2012 12:16    PDF Print Write e-mail
Stanfill on NYAC's Maturity, Potential
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

The New York Athletic Club’s  39-21 defeat of Life in Marietta was not flashy. NYAC ground out the 39 points on the back of dominating forward play and suffocating defense. Tui Osborne managed a few threatening breakaways, but NYAC owned possession and the run of play most of the day.

Written by Alex Goff    Monday, 14 May 2012 10:21    PDF Print Write e-mail
U20 Assembly to Show Changes in Approach
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Flying back from Georgia after last year’s Junior World Rugby Trophy, USA U20 Head Coach Scott Lawrence decided to write a list of lessons he and the program had learned during the trip.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Saturday, 12 May 2012 00:48    PDF Print Write e-mail
Steinberg Explains PSU's Strategy v WCR
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Both Penn State and Women’s Cougar Rugby (WCR) are well documented teams with many familiar players, but PSU did a better job of addressing their opponent’s strength while exacting their brand of hard-attacking rugby.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Saturday, 12 May 2012 00:41    PDF Print Write e-mail
Winona Enjoys History-Making Win
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Tomorrow’s DII women’s college final will be the farthest Winona has ever advanced in the national tournament. It’s been an especially long trip for players like Hilary Pletta.

Written by Pat Clifton    Monday, 07 May 2012 17:27    PDF Print Write e-mail
Cortez, Breckenridge Tackle College Issues
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Last week Rich Cortez and Tam Breckenridge were announced as USA Rugby’s collegiate directors, Cortez as the director of collegiate rugby and Breckenridge as the associate director, and this week we’ve caught up with them to discuss their new roles.

Written by Alex Goff    Friday, 04 May 2012 12:55    PDF Print Write e-mail
Prospect L'Estrange Has Familiar Story
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

One might recognize the background – a skilled back born in the USA and raised in Australia, who excelled playing in university there.

Written by Alex Goff    Thursday, 12 April 2012 01:05    PDF Print Write e-mail
Beach's Day in the Sun
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

Alex Goff checks in with Old Puget Sound Beach's coach and captain after their big win this past weekend.

Written by Jackie Finlan    Monday, 02 April 2012 21:58    PDF Print Write e-mail
Julia Fortkort - College Player of the Week
RUGBYmag Premier - Profiles and Interviews

It’s been a historic season thus far for the University of Texas women. Last weekend, the first-year DI team battled its way through Texas, won the South play-ins, then followed with a return trip to Mobile, Ala., to defeat Georgia Tech and defending South champ North Carolina for the title to confirm its spot at nationals. Every successful team has a core of integral playmakers on and off the field who drives her teammates forward, and’s Women’s College Player of the Week Julia Fortkort is a prime example.

Typically Texas' hooker, Fortkort has stepped in to play flanker, flyhalf and center this season.
Fortkort with the DI South Championship trophy.

“This weekend was more than just a championship to me,” the 21-year-old, Herndon, Va., native said. “It was the result of a year’s worth of hard work. Last year, we finished our season earlier than expected, and after that, there was a change of mindset within the team. We knew we had to make some changes; we were in the big leagues now, so we had to act like it.”

As captain and match secretary, Fortkort expanded the team’s schedule to include trips to Oklahoma’s War of the Roses, San Diego’s Scrum By The Sea, and games against women’s clubs. Fortkort is also the fitness captain and put the team on a Crossfit regimen. She also ensured her teammates rallied around the opportunity to play at the first-ever College 7s Championship, where Texas placed ninth.

“We had expanded our competition so much that it didn’t matter who we were going to play - we had seen it all,” Fortkort reflected on the unique competition structure in place for DI Texas teams. “When we found out we had to go through the South to make it to nationals, we didn’t care that we had never seen these teams before; we were prepared. Our performance last week and this past weekend was some of the best rugby our team has ever played. We came to win, and we did.”

Fortkort has been playing rugby for three years and has worn jerseys for the Texas U23 All Stars and West Collegiate All Stars ever since. She brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the pitch, and this past weekend was no exception.

“Julia played excellently, both defensively and offensively,” Texas assistant coach Jen Moreno said. “She ran hard with the ball, was very efficient and effective off the ball as a support runner and in the rucks, and her tackling and communication on defense were also very good. As the hooker, she did a great job taking control of the scrums, which helped tremendously with our success in the set pieces, even though we were out-sized in both games. As captain, she does a fantastic job setting the tone and intensity. Plus, as you can see from the stats, she made a number of conversion kicks.

“Her performance this weekend really epitomizes how Julia has performed for us all season, both on and off the field,” Moreno continued. “She is extremely hard working, which is evidenced by the improvement in her individual skills over the last few years. She is focused, intense and encouraging at practices and in matches, which I believe makes everyone around her better.”

Fortkort and team have done well to contradict the early-season underestimation of their potential, but the journey isn’t over.

“This year has produced a lot of firsts for us,” Fortkort said. “It was the first time we've ever beaten Texas A&M and Texas Tech, which was a very big deal for us. It was the first time we've received a bid to nationals; the first time we've ever won a conference. It's our first year in Division 1! Nothing can top that.”

Well, maybe except a win at the DI national championship, and given the strides the team has made over the last year, there’s no reason to expect the Longhorns won't continue to surprise the field.

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