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Nicholas In Deep with HS Ranks

irish rugby tours

Nicholas In Deep with HS Ranks

Billy Nicholas has been busy. He took over Lindenwood University’s varsity women’s program in August and coached the DI team to an Illinois conference title, before making an appearance in the fall Round of 16. Once the season ended, the former New Yorker picked up the clipboard for Atlantis, coaching the girls U19 squad to the New York 7s Plate, and assisting Dana Creager during the Women’s second-place finish at Tobago 7s.

Although not his primary objective, it’s stints with these all-star teams that are helping his collegiate recruitment efforts. High School All American McKenzie Hawkins is the most recognized of the recently signed (for fall 2015), but one’s willing to bet more Nicholas alumni will be donning Lions jerseys next year. Rugby Colorado MVP Morgan Courtney, for example, is giving the Missouri school a serious look, especially with the success that former Summit High School teammate Taylor Bohlender is enjoying at Lindenwood. The APEX (which joined Atlantis) vet was just one of 12 high schoolers who traveled to the New York 7s over Thanksgiving break and will be playing for the High School All Americans at the Las Vegas Invitational 7s.

These tours, whether for Atlantis or the HSAAs, are important assemblies, as they pit Americans against Canadians, who are often more skilled. Nicholas, as a coach, can evaluate these players' potential against guaranteed good competition. At NY 7s, the Atlantis U19s beat three Canadian sides – Nova Scotia 39-0, Ontario Jr. Storm East 24-0 and Team Ontario 31-0 (for the Plate) – and lost 22-0 to eventual champion Quebec during pool play (the team also blanked CT Rugby I 41-0 in the Plate semis).

“The Quebec team was extremely dangerous with the ball and aggressive at the breakdown,” Nicholas recalled. “All of the players on a select team are great, but the downfall is the lack of practice together. As the day went on, the girls started learning how one another played, and it really showed through the semi and final.”

Atlantis was the only domestic side to play in the Cup, Plate or Bowl U19 finals, and the only one to walk away with hardware.

For all of those players – all of whom were based west of the Mississippi – that tournament was the end of play for 2014. Except Neariah Persinger. The standout swimmer has been playing ball with Broken Arrow High School (Okla.) for the last year and turned some heads during the inaugural American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC) camp this summer. That’s where Nicholas met the up-and-comer, and Persinger was invited to continue her rugby education with Atlantis in Tobago last week. It was quite the jump from the U19s, especially since Persinger was the only high schooler, and Notre Dame College’s Hannah Gauthreaux and UVA's Brianna Kim were the only collegians on the senior squad. But Persinger didn't show any hesitation in flashing her speed and dotting down eight tries on the weekend.

“Numerous players stood out to me over the weekend, but the leadership of Lauren Rhode was superb,” Nicholas said. “She knows how to gather a team in and get everyone focused for the next match. She is an on-field leader. I had the pleasure of coaching her at the ARPTC in Arkansas, and in Tobago she continued to impress me with her rugby knowledge and skills.”

Former USA Women 7s resident Kimber Rozier joined the Atlantis Women and was crowned MVP of the entire tournament. Bolstering Rozier’s experience was a host of Women’s Premier League notables, 15s Eagle Sam Pankey, and Collegiate All American vice captain Bri Kim. But although the team went undefeated into the final – a trophy that the Atlantis Women have won six times – the squad fell 7-5 to the Stars, a team that Atlantis had beaten 14-0 in pool play.

“A few things didn't go our way and the Stars happened to capitalize on that,” Nicholas said of the title bout. “It was a very close, back-and-forth match that we would have loved to see a different outcome on – like the one we saw the previous day – but it just didn't happen to work out that way Sunday. But the team kept their composure throughout the entire weekend and that is one thing that continued to impress me and others at the tournament. Many rugby bystanders and coaches paid some pretty great compliments to the Atlantis women on their talent and amazing culture throughout the weekend.”

(Stay tuned for a rounder article on Atlantis at Tobago).

Nicholas doesn’t have too much time to reflect on the achievements of the weekend, as it’s back to work recruiting for Lindenwood and assembling the next all-star tour. What’s next? APEX founder and Summit coach Karl Barth and Nicholas are teaming up again in Las Vegas, only this time they’re bringing two U19 7s teams.

“I am really looking forward to bringing some of the NYC girls back together – although a handful have been selected to represent HSAAs – and bringing some new Atlantis selections into a high-level competition in Vegas,” Nicholas said. “Karl and I are very excited to see how the girls will do, and it will be an amazing learning experience for the girls as they experience the Academy-style player development while in Vegas.”