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Women 7s Team Casting Net Wide

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Women 7s Team Casting Net Wide

While the USA Men’s 7s team undergoes some upheaval and faces the uncomfortable question of whether they can qualify for the 2016 Olympics, the USA Women’s team is in a somewhat different situation.

They have coaching stability, with Ric Suggitt at the reins still. They have future stability, with knowledge that they have a much stronger chance of qualifying for Rio 2016.

That doesn’t mean all is comfortable. The USA Women’s 7s team finished 7th in the World Series last season, and failed t make the semifinals in any of the five tournaments. That was all part of the season audit conducted by USA Rugby and the US Olympic Committee, taking to task Suggitt and his program for not being medal contenders, at least last year.

But what’s also different about the USA Women’s team has been the change in personnel. While the Men’s team has largely depended on bringing in existing rugby players through the college system and other development pathways, the Women’s team has found athletes from farther afield.

Of the15 players currently in residence working with Suggitt, only three played in the USA age-grade teams, and only one of those, Katie Johnson, played high school rugby.

College rugby has produced a greater percentage of players - ten of the 15 played rugby in college. That’s significant, but also points to the fact that the talent is crossing over from other sports. Many of the players in college were recruited from soccer, fencing, track, and basketball. Lauren Doyle was recruited to play rugby at Eastern Illinois, but didn’t play the game until she got there.

“Everyone’s a crossover,” Suggitt told Goff Rugby Report. “Some cross over a bit later than others. I am constantly looking for athletes, constantly looking at who is at the OTC [Olympic Training Center] to see who might be a fit.”

And that’s how Suggitt has brought in Lorrie Clifford and Melissa Fowler, both were basketball players at Western Oregon University. That’s how former Benedictine College soccer standout Kate Zackary is now playing rugby at the OTC. That’s how Jessica Javelet followed the Ellie Karvoski path, going from international field hockey to being a rugby speedster. That’s how Alev Kelter converted from playing ice hockey for Wisconsin and the USA at age-grade level to playing rugby on grass.

For Suggitt, it’s about athleticism, and it’s abut mind-set. He doesn’t want players who just want to play in the Olympics. He is vocal in echoing the USOC call for medals.

“I ask players, ‘why do you want to be here?’ and Lorrie Clifford gave the perfect answer - ‘I want to win a gold medal,’” recalled Suggitt.

So America’s high school programs have more work to do to produce Olympic trainees, because the standard they are measured against is not each other, but athletes who are coming from other sports every day.

Already Suggitt is looking for more competition for the players in camp, looking at USA 15s players who want to come back to 7s after the Women’s World Cup, young athletes at the OTC, and players from somewhere else, too.

“I firmly believe we have 12 players in the USA right now who can win a gold medal,” said Suggitt. “They may not be here in Chula Vista right now, but they are out there, somewhere.”

Players in 7s Residency now, and their backgrounds:
1. Lorrie Clifford. Player basketball for Western Oregon. Originally from Alaska
2. Megan Bonny. Washington native who played rugby for Washington State.
3. Victoria Folayan. Florida native and multi-sport star who converted to rugby at Stanford.
4. Amelia Villines. Arkansas native who was a basketball player in high school. Played rugby at Stanford and was a USA U19 player there.
5. Melissa Fowler. Didn't player rugby in high school (Canby, Ore.) but had a lot of friends that did. Western Oregon basketball player.
6. Lauren Doyle. Track runner from Illinois recruited to Eastern Illinois for rugby and track.
7. Kathryn Johnson. From a rugby family, played for Hopkins HS program, USA U19s, and UW-Milwaukee.
8. Kate Zackary. From Salina, Kans., Benedictine College soccer player.
9.  Jillion Potter. Colorado native played rugby at New Mexico, where she was urged to try out for the USA U19s. Made that team and USA U23s in same year. Full Eagle two years later.
10. Jessica Javelet. From San Diego. Star field hockey player for Louisville and USA. Played pro field hockey and later gridiron football.
11. Bianca Dalal. Multi-sport athlete in HS in Maryland before trying rugby at Penn State.
12. Alev Kelter. Leading player for University of Wisconsin Hockey (ice, not field) and represented the USA at age-grades.
13. Dana Meschisi. Multi-sport athlete in Florida before trying rugby at Florida State.
14. Bex Siebach. From California but born in Hong Kong and exposed to many sports before taking up rugby at BYU.
15. Kelly Griffin. California native, started playing rugby at UCLA and was USA U23 player and one of the few on this list with extensive club rugby experience.