Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reintroducing Coach Vaha Esikia

The 2014 Tobago 7s tour was a near perfect experience of playing rugby in paradise with training (and recovery) on the beach, KB won the grand finale goat race, our women's developmental team made the Plate final vs Heidi's Heroes from the UK, the men went 6-0 in pool play and the reseeded Cup round to make the Cup Final vs Esher from the UK, and the women's elite team won the Cup Final over Atlantis in a 7-5 thriller! The team bonded over copious amounts of fresh coconut water, team skits, boy bands, rookie traditions, ugly Christmas sweaters and breakdancing with the biggest contribution to the Stars Magic coming from the phenomenal coaching staff!

The Tobago 7s tour saw the return of Stars veteran coaches Orene Ai'i and Liam Hutchinson; with 3 teams entered in the competition, Stars added USA Rugby Eagle XVs veteran player & U-20 coach Vaha Esikia to the mix. The balance of personalities, diverse playing experiences, and the impressive collective rugby IQ of these men provided an optimal training and learning environment for our Stars athletes. Looking back a the rosters, while we had a few "stars" of the game, the majority of our players came from D2 & D3 clubs and the college level and the results in a short time is a credit to the coaching.

Vaha and I have known each other for a few years largely by reputation and then via social media chats and in lengthy phone calls discussing the development, growth, and media for his Las Vegas Rugby Academy. I knew his playing history from the 2007 Rugby World Cup and that he had been a valued coach with the the U-20 Junior World Trophy team. He had reached out for feedback on some players and assistance in recruiting from the Midwest for a U-20 camp and we kept in contact. Bringing him on board for Stars was a no-brainer - his personality and dedication to family fits in perfectly with the Stars vibe and I can confidently say that all of our players enjoyed watching him and Orene pair together to take the field for Team Venezuela!

Vaha had committed to the Selects program for the 2015 Las Vegas Invitational and led their Elite 1 side in tournament play. We greatly missed his presence at the Stars compound and so brainstormed the 1st ever STARBQ to benefit his LVRA programming and bring together the Stars players and coaches playing with other teams for the LVI.

The STARBQ has now become a hallmark of our tours and for every tournament we bring together family and friends and raise money for a local youth rugby initiative. That's pure Vaha - rugby family at its finest. I am proud to announce he will return to Stars for the 2nd half of our 2015 touring season to guide the program from August well into the foreseeable future! We'll miss his presence in Calgary.

Here's his bio:

Vahafolau (Vaha) Esikia is a  native of The Friendly Island of Tonga. He has been a resident of the USA since age 5 and began his rugby career while a sophomore at San Mateo High School. He committed to an hour drive to play rugby for Los Altos High School Rugby Club. As a junior he decided to escalate his knowledge and skill by joining the local San Mateo Rugby Club. At the time the SMRC had several former USA National Team players including Alatini Saulala, Vaea Anitoni and Vuka Tau. After high school Vaha put his rugby career on hold and served a 2 year mission for his church. Upon his return he continued with San Mateo Rugby Club before moving to Las Vegas where he joined the Sin City Irish  for one season and continued with the Las Vegas Blackjacks Rugby Club.

His rugby career for the Eagles began in 2006 with selection for the Pacific Coast Grizzlies ITT All-Star 15s in Florida; his performance at the all-star tournament earned him an invite to play for the NA4 Falcons. Vaha received his first Cap for the Eagles against Ireland A and played his last game for the Eagles in 2008 against Ireland A. He earned 17 caps with USA over the course of his international career. He had the honor of being a member of the USA Rugby World Cup Team in 2007 and started as center in all 4 matches.

In 2009 he started his coaching career when he formed the “Las Vegas Rugby Academy” (LVRA). In 2012 he became the backs coach for the Las Vegas Blackjacks and in the same year he also was named the USA U-20 skills coach. In 2013 he was promoted to head coach for Las Vegas Blackjacks and became a licensed World Rugby Educator. Fall of 2014 saw Vaha add coaching UNLV and make his debut with Stars Rugby 7s.

Las Vegas Rugby Academy: Director of Rugby 2009 – Present
USA U-20 Rugby: Skills Coach 2012 & 2013
Las Vegas Blackjacks: Head Coach 2013
     Backs Coach 2012 & 2014
Selects 7s: Elite 7s Head Coach 2013-2015
UNLV: Head Coach 2014- Present
Stars Rugby 7s: Women's Coach 2014
     Men's & Women's Coach 2015 - Present

International & All-Star:
USA Rugby Men’s National Team XVs
     *17 Caps 2006- 2008
USA Falcons
     *NA4 2nd Place 2006-2008
Pacific Coast Grizzlies XVs 2002-2007
     *ITT National Champions 2002-2005, 2007
     *3rd Place 2006
Pacific Coast Grizzlies 7s
     *ITT National Champions 2002-2004
     *2nd Place 2005 & 2006

Las Vegas Blackjacks 2009-Present
     *2010 USA Men's Division 1 National Champions 15s
     *2009 2nd Place
San Mateo Rugby Club 1996-2003, 2006-2007
     *2001 & 2002 USA Men's Division 1 National Champion 15s
     *2003 2nd Place
     *1998 - USA Club 7s National Champions
Las Vegas Blackjacks Rugby Club 2005
Sin City Irish Rugby Club 2004
Los Altos High School 1995-1998

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stars Bring On Palmer College of Chiropractic Coach Joe Lippert

It is easy to look at Stars Rugby 7s as a vehicle solely for player development but one of the other key aspects is in coaching opportunities. Nearly every rugby player in the USA has been part of a practice where perhaps 10 players are at a training because of weather, work or personal obligations - and that will continue as long as rugby is an amateur, mostly club level sport. We all began as crossover athletes and rookies to rugby and nearly every fall and spring 15s season and summer 7s cycle begins with an influx of new players, going back to the basics of the game, and slowly evolving with the goal of hitting peak performance at that season's national championship only to reset once again the next season. The continuum of player and team development is full of stops, starts and unknowns. 

To give coaches the opportunity to work with athletes with guaranteed numbers and discipline at practice, with the ability to plan sessions anticipating a level of athleticism, ball handling & tackling, and to provide coaches the chance to develop their own skills with each tour is a valuable tool. On Stars tours coaches get to focus and ONLY coach rather than serve as recruiters, scouts, administrators, travel coordinators, videographers and financiers. Some of our coaches get to "coach up" beyond the college or local club level. Some get to focus on pure 7s tactics. Some get the challenge of working with a different gender, with different players outside of their regions, or to experiment with different systems. And they get to reassess and deploy their tactics in a controlled environment and in organized tournament settings over the course of a few days of play. Having USA Rugby's Director of Coach Development Josh Sutcliffe as a part of our coaching team has been a huge asset; having instant access to his suggestions, thoughts, and feedback has improved our staff and provided practical opportunities for additional development as well as long term dialogs. The more coaches we can integrate into Stars with both fantastic rugby experiences and a passion to learn as a coach, the better. Ultimately we want to refer coaches for additional opportunities like Elite City 7s, the new women's elite coaching opportunities via the revived NASC weekends, or for Hawks & Falcons tours!

Joe Lippert is a coach I've known for several years in the Midwest; I have been constantly impressed with the success he has achieved on the pitch as player in 15s and 7s (including playing for Stars Coach Sam's Youngbloodz 7s program that has included Stars players Kaelene Lundstrum, Ashley Perry, Pate Takeivikata, Carter Beelman and Lee Hoskins) and in leading teams from the sidelines. Just barely 30 years old, Joe has consecutive national playoff appearances under his belt as the coach of the Wisconsin Rugby Club and a USA Rugby Men's Division 2 National Championship title. 

Joe has moved on from our Wisconsin days to take on the prestigious post of coaching Palmer College of Chiropractic (following fellow Stars Coach NeMani) which for years led the Midwest Division 1 Men's Club ranks with a string of USA Rugby Sweet 16 and Final Four appearances. Joe has been key in developing their new women's club side and we have chatted many a time about players and recruitment opportunities. I cannot think of another young coach that has accomplished as much as Joe and Stars will give him the chance to focus again on 7s as, to date, Palmer has been a 15s-only program. He'll be a stellar addition to our coaching staff and be able to provide many of our athletes with the chance explore Palmer's academic opportunities and rugby scholarships!

Joe sent his rugby bio:

2003-2008 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Captain, Club President
2007 & 2008 WI Collegiate Select Side
2008-2011 YoungBloodz 7s
2012-2013 Wisconsin Rugby Club 7s
2007-present Bangkok Southerners, Annual Player & Tourist

2007-2008 UW-Eau Claire Player-Coach
2009 & 2010 WI Collegiate Select Side Assistant  
& Head coach
2011-2013 Wisconsin Rugby Club Head Coach
     *2012 National Runners-Up Division 2 Men's Club
     *2013 National Champions D2 Men's Club
2014-present Palmer College of Chiropractic,  
Head Coach Men’s D1 & Women’s D2

I want to join the Stars Family because…Touring rugby changed my life for the better and I want to contribute and facilitate similar experiences for talented young American rugby players.  Stars Rugby has quickly established itself as a top touring side and a special group of people.  Seeing the camaraderie on display in Las Vegas and in the program’s social media updates has given me great vibes and made me hungry to tour and coach in the high-performance environment Stars Rugby competes in.  Talented young American ruggers deserve the opportunity to compete with and against the best.  I look forward to being a part of America’s fastest-growing elite rugby touring side/family.  Hopefully, I can open the door (and offer scholarships!) to some talented Stars who may be interested in chiropractic as a future career.  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Stars Rugby 7s Returns Coach Joel Bonnaud for Stampede 7s Tour

Stars Rugby 7s is proud to return Coach Joel Bonnaud to the staff for Calgary Stampede 7s. I came to know Joel quite well as my club 7s coach with the Columbus-based W1823 7s side. We've amassed plenty of time together on the road traveling to qualifier tournaments around the Midwest 7s series and off-season trips to New York 7s & Atlanta 7s.

His passion for the game, strong relationships with the players, and tireless efforts in providing year-round programming for our club made him a clear choice as a coach for the Stars team. Plus he has tutored us in French, hosted our team for Thanksgiving dinner, for barbecues & team bonding, all while demonstrating remarkable patience & calm and a fantastic sense of humor.

Joel shared his bio and coaching philosophy:

Joel grew up in the South West of France (Toulouse area) – an undeniable rugby stronghold – and was then involved in the game very early on, reaching the Federale 1 level (top amateur level) in his Senior years.In 2005, Joel and his family moved to the NYC metro area and a couple of years later, he decided to start giving back and share his passion by opening his own youth rugby club, Try Rugby.

Moving once more in 2011 to New Albany, OH, Joel kept running his youth club, but also started coaching women's college D1 rugby at The Ohio State University Women’s RFC. In two seasons with the team he led the squad to CRC 7s championship match and consecutive appearances in the USA Rugby Collegiate 7s Nationals Elite 8.

In 2014, merging efforts with the prestigious Tiger Rugby, Joel not only launched the Tiger Youth Rugby Academy (opened to all Grades, Boys and Girls, with its own facilities), but also created the women’s club 7s team “W1823”.

After a successful first Midwest Competitive Summer, W1823 went on to participate in New York 7s, Atlanta 7s. Several players had the great opportunity to play for Stars Rugby in Tobago 7s, Vegas 7s and as well join the American Rugby Pro Training Center high performance 7s camps. In February 2015, Joel had the privilege to coach one of the Stars Rugby Elite Women’s teams in Vegas.

Joel’s coaching philosophy focuses on player development, which is why he founded W1823 and joined Stars Rugby: “Outcome only is a byproduct of content. The goal isn’t then to collect easy wins in order to show a nice record, but to evolve in an environment of excellence, surrounding yourself with the best and playing against the best…There is no better reward than watching players and team as a whole continuously reaching new heights and pushing their limits."