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Stephens Steps Out at NACRA 7s

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Stephens Steps Out at NACRA 7s

Stephens with her NACRA 7s medal around her neck.

Straight out of high school and in to international rugby, Richelle Stephens was not eased into the role.

The Fallbrook HS talent was picked for the USA team at the NACRA 7s, and then started at flyhalf - in every game.

“She was the only player to play every minute,” said USA Head Coach Ric Suggitt. “And yeah we’re going to get her out there. She was able to play and learn how to play at this level. She is a smart player, and has a lot of poise - I thought she did great.”

Stephens had missed a lot of rugby over the last few months due to injury; in fact, the just-graduated senior had to choose between representing Fallbrook at her last national championship and fully healing for the pre-NACRA camp. Her coaches – Craig and Marin Pinnell – encouraged Stephens to think of her future and not risk a potentially career-launching opportunity.

The extra rest paid off, but Stephens was still surprised that she made the squad for Cary, NC. So starting, not just once, but every game, was an even bigger shock.

“I was pretty surprised when I was told I’d be starting,” she said. “It’s intense. But at Fallbrook I’ve been prepared for it. We train a lot more than most high school teams. We’re sprinting all the time. We learn not to relax, even if we’re winning by a big score.”

That, of course, is what the USA needed to do in Cary, as they started blowing out teams, and needed to keep the focus, energy, and intelligence at a high level. Surrounded by veterans and leaders, Stephens fit in nicely, not getting sloppy, making her passes, and setting free her teammates for almost 10 tries a game.

Stephens didn’t show any signs of intimidation, either, and capitalized on a few errors for tries – scooping up a ball that rebounded off of a receiver’s leg, blocking and falling on a clearing kick. One of her more memorable moments occurred on a kickoff, when the youngster came flying into view for a shoestring catch, faked a kick, and then rumbled ahead for 10 meters.

For an 18-year-old who is jut out of high school rugby, her performance was beyond her years, and she’s going to get better by staying close to the Olympic Training Center. Although Stephens has signed with Lindenwood University for fall 2015, the capped 7s Eagle will take online classes while remaining in close proximity to the athletes in residence. Whatever the future holds, Stephens should be incredibly proud that she helped the USA qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.