Thursday, October 16, 2014

Meet The Team CC7s Edition: Jessica (JT) Turner

When I first came across JT and her American flag scrum cap on the rugby field I HATED her. At the 2013 USA Rugby Club 7s Championships in Pittsburgh my Chicago Lions 7s team was in the same pool as her Berkeley All Blues side. We were both 2-0 heading into the final match of the day and both assured of making the Cup Quarterfinals, and winning that third match was crucial for seeding as whoever lost would come across the Pool B winners and 2012 Club 7s Champions, the San Diego Surfers.

My team lost that game 22-19 on a disputed call - what seemed to be a forward pass by Berkeley was also knocked-on and the referee said "forward", both teams stopped play because of the seemingly obvious infraction and we anticipated a scrum. However, the whistle was not blown and JT smartly picked up the ball and ran it in for a try. Their team went on to win the championship (adding to their collection as the most decorated women's rugby team in the Women's Premier League) and in the other 5 games only had 10 total points scored against them. DARN IT JT!

I came across her again this February in the Women's Elite bracket of the Las Vegas Invitational where she donned an Atlantis Rugby jersey. Once again her team got the best of us (and she may or may not have drop tackled me like no one else has) and we chatted after the match about Stars opportunities and keeping in touch. I extended her an invite to Calgary and to future tours and while Calgary didn't pan out due to club 7s scheduling, she did make our Central Coast 7s roster.

I got to see JT yet again at this year's Club 7s Championships in Seattle where her Berkeley team took 3rd place and saw her again 2 weeks later at the American Pro Rugby Training Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was a welcome veteran presence at the High Performance 7s Camp and made a difference on the pitch again with her hard running lines and ability to set her teammates into space. JT plays a unique role in the game of 7s - you'll see in Australia! Plus I'm glad I eventually got to know her off the pitch as a friend.

Here's more on JT in her words:
I started playing rugby in college at Humboldt State University after some rugby girls recruited me. Originally I was trying to play soccer but it didn't work out. Once I got started, I was hooked! It was so much fun and the girls were really cool, and I soon realized that this is the sport that I was born to play that I literally didn't know about until then. I played my couple years of college and then "retired" for a little bit.

Towards the end of graduate school I started to really miss rugby. I went to 2 Pacific Coast Grizzlies tryout camps to try and make the squad. I ended up making the first round of cuts (and I was ecstatic because I hadn't played rugby in 5 years), and I was able to travel to San Diego to scrimmage the SoCal Griffins. After meeting many All Blues and Coach Kathy Flores, I made the executive decision to move to the bay to play with Berkeley, and my goal was to be the best player I could possibly be so I could become an Eagle.

After playing with the All Blues for the past 2 years, I'm the proud owner of 2 gold medals from a WPL National Championship and a 7s Club National Championship, a silver from WPL, and a bronze from 7s this last summer. I've also been blessed to have toured with Atlantis 7s in Las Vegas last year and to Spain this past summer. I've also attended an ETC for 15s, trained at the American Pro Rugby Training Center in Little Rock, and am now on my first tour with the Stars 7s to Australia! 
I'm so happy to have learned and played for some spectacular rugby coaches throughout all my adventures as well as some amazing players and teammates. Rugby is awesome because it has taken me places I never thought I would go, I've met some of the best people I've ever known, and I've learned so much about myself as a person and an athlete through my career. I'm very grateful and blessed to have the love and support from people from all aspects of my life! Now I've got my eyes on USA 7s with my heart set on Rio. It's been a tough but amazing road, but I'm going forward as best I can and leaving the rest up to the universe to decide for me.

I'm super pumped for the Central Coast 7s because this will be my first time in Australia and will also be the best competition I will have faced in my career thus far. I'm ready to rip it up on the pitch as well as have a great time off it!! It's now time to show everyone that I am an awesome player and am ready for the next major step in my career!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet The Team CC7s Edition: Matt Hughston

Matt Hughston is a name that many following rugby 7s this summer will recognize . He was selected to the Washington DC Elite City 7s team and took home First Team All Tournament honors, captained the  Charlotte Rugby Club 7s side that made the Cape Fear 7s finals and placed 3rd at South regionals, playing alongside with CC7s Star Chris Milledge. Matt's relentless effort was rewarded as he was invited to the first of new Eagles Men's 7s Coach Mike Friday's High Performance Sevens camps at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Matt additionally took the pitch for Azul y Negro at Serevi Rugbytown 7s and continued his try scoring ways.

Matt is a standout athlete in a region of the United States that until recently was fairly under served when it comes to elite 7s opportunities (we touched a bit on that topic in this post). Fortunately, the much deserving Life University was just announced a new National Development Academy as a part of USA Rugby's Olympic Development Academy yesterday and additional opportunities a bit closer to home should arise.Without the same traditional Sevens Qualifier Circuit in the South the ability to play consistent, challenging competition lags - the South hosts a one-off tournament to qualify for nationals as compared to the 4 to 5 tournament series you find in the Northeast, Midwest, West and California - and this year only 6 teams traveled for the qualifier. This contrasts to the Midwest where as many as 16 men's teams play in each qualifier, and anywhere from 16 to 80+ additional teams play in competitive and social brackets. Some clubs fielded two sides in the qualifiers this year with a wealth of talent and competition for roster spots.

Increasing access to high level rugby 7s is one of the driving forces for our Stars program. It is worth noting that of our men's team traveling to Central Coast 7s, only one player plays for a team that made the Club 7s National Championships. It is a pleasure to be offer additional elite 7s opportunities to players like Matt. He came highly recommended to the Stars program by a few other players and coaches; there is little explanation needed as to why he made our Central Coast 7s side. He is an ambitious player with the right skills and credentials to make an impact on the international scene. Our side can provide him with the added opportunity to train and compete as other players on the iRB circuit do for a week and to compete directly against these players. Daveta, Yamacia, and Red Rock are each rumored to have members of the Fijian National Team that won Gold Coast 7s on their rosters. Middlesex will have at least one All Blacks player and it's certain that players from Australia's 7s pool will be in action.

Here's more on Matt:

Matt Hughston Profile:
25 years old
Hometown – Charlotte NC
College - Eastern Carolina University

Notable Rugby Achievements: 
U19 Eastern Seaboard All-Stars MVP (beat out Cam Dolan, Colton Cariaga)
U20 Eagles 2009
Collegiate All-South XVs 2009
Twice named USA Rugby Collegiate Division II Rugby All American
Vice Captain USA South Panthers 2012-present
Atlantis 7s 2013-present
Named to First Tournament Team for Elite City 7s
Eagles Men’s 7s High Performance Camp Summer 2014
Named Rio 2016 hopeful

Aspirations: To achieve the honor of being named an Eagle for Sevens and eventually XVs. I am looking to elevate my game play in Australia against the world’s highest club competition and develop in an international setting. My main goal is to become an Olympian in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meet The Team CC7s Edition: Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan is another member of the Stars program who connected with us via social media via the Facebook page and had a pretty stellar resume to back up his desire to play high level 7s. Besides a rugby background with roots in Kentucky and at Xavier University, Matt is a Captain in the United States Army.

Each year the Armed Forces participate in Serevi Rugbytown 7s as well as in exhibitions at the Collegiate Rugby Championships 7s . The All Army Rugby 7s Team, for whom Matt has been selected for, has produced several players currently training at the Olympic Training Center as a part of the World Class Athlete Program.

I had the chance to watch the Armed Forces Cup live this year and Army easily took the title and advance to the semifinals of Rugbytown 7s - all while playing 2 extra games including early morning Friday matches, as compared to the "regular" teams participating. Their success is all the more impressive when you consider their team does not train together regularly and some are not even in the same state, let alone the same country for most of the year.

Beyond All Army 7s, Matt has sought out high performance rugby opportunities between his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He attended the Serevi Rugby Camp in College Park, Maryland this past April (as detailed in this Rugby Today article) and was then extended the offer to attend their Men's High Performance Resident Camp in Glendale, CO this summer.

It was an easy decision to extend Matt an invite for our Central Coast 7s tour and, between other
military duties, whichever tours he can make. He's been a fantastic ambassador for our program in recommending players across all the branches of the Armed Forces to our side as well as those he's observed at various camps.

Here's more on Matt:

- First played in high school for the Northern Kentucky Gentlemen Rugby Club.
- Continued playing in college at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
- Graduated in 2008 and began active duty service in the Army as a Second Lieutenant.
- Played at Fort Bragg, NC after return from Iraq deployment in August 2010.
- In July 2013, played for All Army 7s during the inaugural Military Memorial Cup, winning the
gold medal.

- Deployed to Afghanistan from August 2013 to May 2014.
- Attended Serevi Men’s High Performance Resident camp in August.
- Currently the Vice President and co-captain of the Fort Drum (NY) 
Barracks Rangers Rugby Club.
- Excited and thankful for the opportunity to travel to Australia with Stars Rugby. Looking forward to meeting my new teammates, working hard, and the challenge of playing against some of the best talent in the world.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Word From Our Coach: More From Andy Katoa

Full disclosure: I met Coach Andy via Twitter. We were favoriting and retweeting all things rugby back and forth, then progressed to direct messages, then emails and actual phone calls to discuss the world of rugby 7s, of training, coaching and developing athletes, of observations of the iRB Sevens and more. Thank goodness for social media!

Andy has worked with several of the players you'll see on the pitch this weekend at Gold Coast 7s. He has spent significant time in player development and identifying talent as an assistant at the High School All American level with Salty Thompson, in coaching the highly regarded University of Arizona rugby 7s team that produced recent Eagles Peter Tiberio, Brett Thompson and Ryan Matyas, and as the manager for the USA 7s men's team.

 He was highly involved in getting Carlin Isles to crossover into rugby 7s - it's worth noting that Andy is somewhat of a crossover himself having played collegiate football and being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1991. Andy coached Isles at the club level to prepare him for his Eagles 7s contract, working on development when Isles first stepped on the pitch with the Gentlemen of Aspen. The likes of Mike Palefau, Maka Unufe, Leonard Peters and Pila Taufa are former/current Eagles whom have flourished under Andy's guidance. Andy is additionally veteran of a few rugby 7s touring sides and led the Gentlemen of Aspen to a USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship in 2008.

 Grantland's Video: The Fastest Man In Rugby Carlin Isles
 features Coach Andy and his role in developing Isles for the Eagles

This summer Andy recommended several athletes for our Stars program and assisted with some of our funding work for the Calgary Stampede 7s tour. As we spent more and more time discussing the direction and potential of the Stars program, I threw it out that he should join us on a tour as a guest coach. I was a little shocked and beyond thrilled that he said yes not just to our Australia tour but for Tobago 7s and beyond. "Liz, I want to be your Stars men's coach," still echoes in my mind; his commitment becomes even more meaningful given that he was recently named the  Head Coach for the Tonga 7s.

Andy led a the Tonga team into the Oceania 7s tournament last week where he debuted two 19 year olds in the flyhalf and center positions after only having two weeks to evaluate talent and make selections. The young team, which included Star player Eddie Paea, had its trials. Tonga drew a difficult pool of Australia, Samoa and New Caledonia yet still advanced to the Cup Quarterfinals and eventually place 6th. Their appearance in the Plate Final  earned Tonga a spot at Hong Kong 7s.

Eddie commented on Andy's amazing knowledge of the game and on how much the players appreciated his coaching. Andy reported, "It's been a great experience so far with these kids...loads of talent here and in Tonga. I've been given clearance to full access of kids in NZ and Australia. It will make Tonga that much better." 

Here's a quick message from Coach Andy:

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to say hello and that I'm really looking forward to spending time with the Stars 7s in Australia. We know that Liz has been working hard on putting together a mixture of young talent for CCS 7s, soI am really excited to see how we will be able to come together as team and focus on the task at hand.

The focus is for us to do the simple things real well. TACKLE, support, pass, catch, run. We will have about 5 solid days to work out our points of play. With everyone coming in well-conditioned we will be able to execute the basic things at an accelerated pace. This will make things a lot easier on all of us.

Coach Orene and I are really excited to be with the Stars and know the experience will benefit us all. Everyone keep up the hard work and keep the fitness up. We'll see you all soon.

Thank you,

Counting this as Drew Brees, Carlin Isles and Darren Sproles 
wishing Stars Rugby 7s good luck!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Meet The Team CC7s Edition: Joanne (Nana) Fa'Avesi

Nana joined the Stars for our Calgary Stampede 7s tour after submitting her player nomination alongside some spectacular game film. What stood out about Nana was her quickness and keen decision making. Her versatility with the ability to play anywhere from scrumhalf to fullback on the XVs pitch solidified her spot on the team.

I had the chance meet Nana in person and see her skills live when her Sacramento Amazons team played for the USA Rugby D2 National Championship in Madison, WI in June. They fell just short of upsetting defending champions (and Star Rebecca Trapp's team) the Pittsburgh Angels but in the process of the 36-26 loss had what was the closest and most exciting game on the day.

Nana excelled on the field for us in Canada in July and earned a week at the Olympic Training Center at Chula Vista as a result; she is currently back at the OTC with the USA Women's 7s program for another week with Eagles coach Ric Suggitt. The Amazons team also scored a huge upset this summer in beating then USA Rugby Club 7s National Champions (and Stars Jessica Turner's current team/Cynthia Wright's former team) the Berkeley All Blues in their final NorCal qualifier to make it to Seattle for the 7s National Championships. It has been fantastic watching her progress as a player and embracing all the opportunities before her since those first game clips in March.

Nana has been a huge asset for our program off the field as well. She brought her fantastic sister Mary to our team - who had to decline her invite to Australia as she is 6 months away from adding another Star to our family! - as well as another Amazon teammate Leka. She introduced Jojo to our men's side, brought in Pasifika Strength & Conditioning as a sponsor/partner, and continues to recruit for the program and represent us well. Nana is our youngest women's player and has a huge future ahead of her as she continues to commit and train for the game of rugby 7s!

Here's Nana's story in her words:

Hi my name is Joanne Fa'avesi better known as Nana! I am 22 years old and I am Tongan, Samoan and German. I started playing rugby when I was a Freshman in High School at Luther Burbank High School. I became a part of the Sacramento Amazons HS side in 2006. After my very first practice I fell in love and never looked back.

Since then I have played for multiple teams including the Sacramento Amazons, Berkeley All Blues and the USA U20 National Team. I love this game because it understands me. When I am playing nothing else matters but that moment. Rugby has done a lot for me and I can honestly say rugby has changed my life in tremendous ways. It has played an important role in who I am today. I am a better person today then I was before both on and off the field.

Playing higher level rugby didn't seem possible for me after HS level. Doors opened to me that changed my route and all I want to do is play higher level rugby because it will help improve my game. In rugby there is always something I can improve on and always something new to learn. My experience with the Stars to Canada was beyond what I expected. I had a great time and learned that the next level is another kind of beast that I must learn how to handle. So I will take what I learned from that tour into this next tour to Australia!

I am sure that the Central Coast 7s will be nothing short of amazing! Looking at the teams that are to attend reassures me that I will have the time of my life. All I can do is prepare and ball out. I would not have made it this far without God, my Family and my Support System! I am a God-fearing Polynesian woman that loves to play rugby!!

Nana is currently fundraising for her Central Coast 7s tour. Donate to her gofundme campaign here.