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Eagle Women to Power Up in Super Series

National Teams

Eagle Women to Power Up in Super Series

Young, physical, 7s experienced, Cheta Emba is a classic example of the types of players Pete Steinberg is trying to get into his team. Jordyn Maultsby photo.

Friday the USA Women’s National 15s Team jumps back in the fray with the Super Series kicking off in Salt Lake City.

The Series actually starts with Canada facing off against England at 3pm at the Regional Athletic Complex. Then at 5pm the Eagles take on France. The round-robin series continues July 5 and July 9.

For Head Coach Pete Steinberg, this is a crucial next step in the molding of a team into what he wants to see. Everyone talks about the Eagles not quite being at the elite level expected of them, Steinberg told Goff Rugby Report. But, he added, last year he ran out 13 new caps and that team beat Canada.

Some of those players haven’t returned - including some who performed well. But others are back and, said Steinberg, “all of our players from last year are better this year. So that means we have better depth.”

Enough depth? Maybe not - at least not without drawing from the 7s program. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the Eagle women’s program will have to do a delicate dance of priorities. This year, certainly, the priority is the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But then it shifts from 7s to 15s for  2017 and the preparation for the 2018 World Cup. And then 2018 is a mess because there’s the 7s World Cup, and the 15s World Cup. 

Access to 7s players will be important for Steinberg’s 15s group as time goes on. Those are players in a full-time environment, fit, smart, fast, and able to tackle one-on-one. It could be most of their 15s backline at times. You can see the dance being done even at the last minute - Nicole Heavirland, originally picked for Salt Lake City, is now remaining at the Olympic Training Center, and veteran Sylvia Braaten replaced her in Utah.

But 7s has its drawbacks.

“A player in the 7s program is in a full-time training environment, and just as with the men we need those players,” said Steinberg. “But our players also need to play. You can go a year in 7s and not make 15 tackles. So we’re constantly trying to find the right players and find the right mix of players.”

The all-star play leading into the Super Series was, said Steinberg, very tough, handsome players played their way out of consideration. Then you’ve got players like Alycia Washington of the Hartford Wild Roses, who was consistently impressive in the NASC and got picked as a result.

So now you’ve got a relatively young team, but one that is putting those young players into leadership positions.

Some of the players to watch:

Hope Rogers. The newly-minted MA Sorensen Award-winner, Rogers is superb running with the ball at prop but is also a terrific scrummager, and will need to be.

Sam Pankey. At 33 she’s a veteran and a leader, and is embracing that role.

Jennifer Lui. The former Penn State standout is really taking control of the scrumhalf position.

Cheta Emba. The Harvard standout showed some really nice skills in the 7s camp, and has a power, combined with height, that both teams need.

Naya Tapper of North Carolina is another strong, powerful runner who can challenge defenders.

Saskia Morgan, Brown, is another bigger back whose presence indicates that Steinberg wants power and strength.

Jordan Gray is another - she is a No. 8 or lock, and not thought to be superbly fast, but, said Steinberg, she’s “not as slow as she looks.”

They will need all of that. France is a team of big players - very big players - warns Steinberg. He has drafted players to counter that, now those players have to be mentally ready. 

“We’re going to have to learn to deal with that size, sooner or later,” said Steinberg. So maybe start Friday.