As the contract process proceeds at USA Rugby, the rest of the country is eager to know which seven women will be named as the first-ever 7s professionals. While details have not yet been released, we’re going to take a stab at who’s at the top of list.
Nearly five years in a concentrated setting is a long time to learn and embrace the game of 7s, but two factors must still be considered when selecting the perfect candidates: 7s experience, and age. The ideal resident would be a college-age player who’s competed internationally, and at present, two athletes meeting that criteria have been confirmed.
Deven Owsiany is a senior at Penn State and has played in all three USA 7s Women’s National Team events this year – USA 7s, Hong Kong and Dubai. Although she only measures at 5’4”, she routinely plays hooker for the Eagles and is an absolute workhorse around the field. She packs a lot of punch in her small frame, and she’s ready for the move to California and take up residence in Chula Vista.
Kimber Rozier has long played a starring role at North Carolina and graduated last semester. USA Women’s 7s coach Ric Suggitt first spotted the flyhalf at the National All Star Championship, and he was surprised that players of her caliber were essentially buried. Rozier made her international debut in Dubai, and even though she’s young, she’s got a great eye for the game.
While players are keeping things quiet until USA Rugby makes the final announcement, we know that college stars Tyra McGrady, Rebekah Siebach, Lisa Henneman and Ryan Carlyle – all of whom played for Suggitt over the last two years – were not offered contracts. That still leaves a few question marks in players like Penn State’s Sadie Anderson, who earned her first 15s cap this summer at the Nations Cup, and Twin Cities’ Kaelene Lundstrum, who joined the 7s team in Dubai, unaccounted for.
For the next age group – mid-twenties – we like 26-year-old Katie Dowty, who also attended all three USA 7s Women’s tournaments this year. She was Rugby Magazine's 7s Player of the Year in 2011, co-captained the USA 7s and was chosen for the Nations Cup squad for her first 15s tournament. Clearly, both Suggitt and USA 15s coach Pete Steinberg have acknowledged that Dowty is coming into her own, and she proved it with a brace of tries in Canada.
At 5’10”, 160 lbs., Emilie Bydwell is the prototype for 7s rugby – tall, strong and fast – and would be devastating as a 7s prop or center. The 26-year-old accompanied the Eagles to Dubai and led the team in tries. She has a 15s Rugby World Cup under her belt, and the Canadian native wouldn’t have to relocate far from her home in San Diego to Chula Vista's Olympic Training Center.
Twenty-six-year-old Vix Folayan is one of the great finishers the USA has in its arsenal today. She, too, played in the 2010 Rugby World Cup and scored a handful of tries, then joined up with the USA 7s team in Las Vegas and Hong Kong afterward. There was a shallow learning curve for the evasive wing, who has killer speed, is slippery down the sideline, and has a boot to boot.
Once we get into the late 20s and early 30s, questions of age become more important. Vanesha McGee (27) and Nathalie Marchino (31) would make excellent additions to the Olympic team and share that title of “best finishers” with Folayan, but one must consider their stations in life [Yes, McGee is only a year older than Folayan]. Still, everyone who’s commented on the prospect of becoming the USA’s first female professional athletes say the same thing: It’s a chance of a lifetime. So we wouldn’t be surprised to see either one of those aforementioned names on the roster.
That said, we want Amy Daniels on that Olympic team. She’s 31 years old now, and would celebrate her 36th birthday in Rio de Janeiro, but we can’t think of anyone who better completes the front row than Daniels. She has two Rugby World Cups to her credit – 7s and 15s – and she would make an excellent pairing with Bydwell in the scrum. She’s incredibly difficult to take down with ball in hand, and when the roles are reversed, she delivers some of the biggest hits on the highlight reel.
For once, the USA has a dilemma it so rarely faces: too much talent, too few opportunities.