Gamebreaker: Arizona's Naber - What's Next?
Gamebreaker: Arizona's Naber - What's Next?
It was a bittersweet moment for Amy Naber. The 24-year-old was playing in her final 15s match for the University of Arizona, and it was against in-state rival Arizona State. If ASU won, then the Sun Devils had a good shot at DI playoffs; if not, then the seed would go to UC Santa Barbara. So Naber scored four tries, and the Wildcats won 45-34.
“Amy is an impact player on and off the pitch,” said Arizona coach Rusty Wortman, Naber’s first rugby coach. “When she and her sister Ella first came to practice, you could see that they were athletes, but as they went through their first season with the [women’s club] Lightning, you could see that they had a great work ethic. It has been a joy to see someone flourish in the sport.”
That first season was back in 2010. The Tucson native injected a unique blend of athleticism and power to the roster, thanks to her years of cheerleading, and playing soccer and track. She sampled the high-performance lifestyle that year with the SoCal U23s, and never looked back.
“I never believed I could play at the elite level but everyone around me did,” Naber said. “It was always the encouragement of family, friends, teammates, and coaches who motivated me to play my best and reach for the top.”
By 2011, Naber was in the USA 7s pipeline, suiting up for the developmental side at the National All Star 7s Championship. The following year, she made one of two Stars & Stripes teams that played at the 2012 USA 7s.
“It was the first year that residency at the OTC was implemented,” Naber remembered the buzz in Las Vegas. “It was a very exciting year for USA Rugby. I remember playing against Canada and their phenomenal captain Jen Kish. I remember scoring the last try in the Plate final against Brazil. I had so many butterflies in my stomach that entire tour, and that’s when I fell in love with 7s.”
The opportunities at the Olympic Training Center invigorated everyone with eyes on the national team, and Naber was no exception. Beginning in summer 2012, she started playing with the San Diego Surfers, the current club 7s champion.
“I would consider 7s my preferred version of rugby but am always just as thrilled when 15s season comes around,” Naber said. “For me, everything is heightened on the 7s pitch. With half the personnel covering the same amount of space, you have to trust your teammates and yourself to make every tackle. The one-on-one competition at the breakdown is what draws me the most. I thrive on the challenge to be the first to my feet after a tackle, or strong and low in the ruck – which all stems from wanting the ball the most.”
Naber became a common face at the higher levels of the game. As a two-time All American, she traveled to Canada during last summer's tour. She's been a member of three Atlantis 7s teams, which diversified her international experience and placed her alongside former Eagles.
“In the 2013 Tobago 7s final with Atlantis against the Maple Leafs,” Naber remembered the toughest competition she’s ever faced. “They fielded [Canada] captain Jen Kish and IRB Women’s player of the year Magali Harvey. It was great to have that exposure playing against two world-class athletes and to learn from that opportunity.”
Rugby was taking Naber to new heights, but she always came home to Tucson, and exerted as much energy in improving her team as she did herself.
“My years with the U of A have taught me the importance of perseverance during any rebuilding process – whether it be recovering from an injury or going back to the basics teaching 30 rookies how to play rugby,” Naber said. “It was always important to not get down about taking those inevitable steps backward, because those steps meant the most. I’ve seen this team evolve from a social side to a competitive side, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team we’ve become.”
Naber’s time with the Wildcats isn’t over just yet. The team will compete at the CRC 7s in Chester, Pa., this June. Should Arizona qualify for stadium play, then it will be the biggest audience to see Naber in all of her glory, and she’s bound to be remembered.
But Naber’s time with rugby in general is far from over. Currently, she’s at the OTC helping the USA 7s Women prepare for the Canada 7s camp, and next month, she’ll head to the American Rugby Pro Training Center in Little Rock, Ark., for a high performance 7s camp. But it's another upcoming opportunity that is poised to change her life.
“I am very honored and grateful to have accepted a rugby scholarship to Life Chiropractic College West,” Naber said of the new program in Hayward, Calif. “I’m very passionate about my field of study in physiology and my work as a caregiver. This opportunity couldn’t have been more fitting nor have come at a more perfect time in my life. I know I will have the resources I need to achieve my rugby goals as well as my career goals at Life West.”
As Naber leaves the Southern California region behind, exciting times for an exciting player lie ahead.