Women's Eagles Sevens headed to Alaska

"I just think there’d be no better way to have that place explode with rugby."

CHULA VISTA, Calif. – After hosting the Brazilian women’s national sevens team at the Olympic Training Center, the Women’s Eagles Sevens will travel to Alaska for a week of training and community outreach programs Sept. 7-13.

Supported by Serevi Rugby, the Eagles will visit 27 schools during their stay in the Last Frontier and work with the Alaska Rugby Union to raise the profile of rugby in the area.

Lorrie Clifford and Alev Kelter joined the Eagles last year after traversing different collegiate paths, though both began at Chugiak High School in Alaska. Cifford, a basketball player for the University of Western Oregon, and Kelter, who played soccer and hockey at the University of Wisconsin, will each host the Eagles for dinner at their families’ respective homes.

“We need to recognize our athletes and they come from all sorts of unique areas,” Eagles Head Coach Ric Suggitt said. “[Lorrie and Alev] both had never really played rugby before, but both of them have been big contributors to what we’re doing here.

“We’ll do our part in promoting rugby and holding practices, then go out and do stuff with the union. I think it’s a great way to get the community to buy into what we’re doing, getting them knowledgeable about what our athletes are going through, have meet and greets, and get out to rugby clubs and into schools. The group we have here is full of the best ambassadors to do that.”

Hear Suggitt discuss raising awareness for his athletes:

Suggitt also spent two days at the new American Rugby Pro Training Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, last weekend, where former Eagles head coach Jules McCoy held a camp with 36 athletes from across the country. Featuring several fields, a gym, and tremendous volunteer support, the ARPTC will help produce high-level athletes that will compete for places in Olympic teams.

“When you get down to the clubhouse, the volunteers are there cutting the grass, lighting the field, making sure that everything is clean for when the athletes come in,” Suggitt said. “One really good thing they already have there is volunteer support and the rugby community behind them.”

Suggitt hopes more academy-like programs will be created in the near future, and outreach like the trip to Alaska can only further the cause.

“I just think there’d be no better way to have that place explode with rugby,” Suggitt said of the upcoming excursion. “Obviously they have a short season [in Alaska] because of the weather, but it gets you outdoors and I think it will grow up there.

“If we can get two players from there already without trying, imagine what we might get from there once we sink our hooks into them. If this proves to be a success, what’s to stop us from going down to Minnesota and doing it for [Kathryn Johnson], hooking up with the Minnesota Rugby Union?”

While Clifford, Kelter, Johnson, and the other 12 Eagles in Residency in Chula Vista are preparing for the first Summer Olympic Games to feature Rugby Sevens, 12 young athletes between the ages of 16 and 18 showcased the sport at the Nanjing 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games earlier in August.

The U.S. women’s team, coached by Richie Walker, finished fourth with one win, one draw, and four losses in China. The men finished fifth with one win in six matches.

While preparations for the Second Summer Youth Olympic Games were given a short timeline following the U.S.’s invitation, Suggitt believes the experience gained from sending the young rugby players to a major multi-sport event will make an impact as Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 loom.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s something that’s invaluable. So when [USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer] Nigel [Melville] asked about it and we had a short time to get ready, I totally agreed that we needed to send two teams. When you get the opportunity like that to actually go, you should go. You should do your best and we did our best.

“But we learned so many lessons by accepting the offer. We learned lessons in going there and we’ll learn lessons when Richie and [Team Leader] Kellie [Cavalier] get back. It’s going to be really valuable for us going forward.”

After a fourth-place finish in the inaugural IRB Women’s Sevens World Series in 2012-13, the Eagles struggled on the circuit last year and finished seventh. The Eagles invited Russia and Canada to the Olympic Training Center during the season and, with Brazil headed to California and high-level academies planted across America, the standard of rugby is growing.

“There were players [at the camp in Little Rock] that will definitely make rugby players better in the States,” Suggitt said. “And that’s what we need: to keep making rugby better. Rome wasn’t built in a day; it takes time.

“Then I can get out to them and identify talent and make sure in my conversations with coaches that they know what we’re doing here [in Chula Vista]. They know the standard and what we’re looking at and what we’re expecting as far as level of fitness from out athletes. They’re in contact with us and that’s good.”

The Eagles will leave for Anchorage Sunday, Sept. 7, and return to the Olympic Training Center Saturday, Sept. 14. The third Women’s Sevens World Series begins Dec. 4 at Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Women's Eagles Sevens | Alaska school visits
Baxter Elementary - Wednesday, September 10
Bear Valley Elementary - Friday, September 12
Begich Middle School - Tuesday, September 9
Central Middle School - Wednesday, September 10
Chugiak Elementary - Monday, September 8
Chugiak High School - Monday, September 8
Clark Middle School - Tuesday, September 9
College Gate Elementary -Tuesday, September 9
Fairview Elementary - Thursday, September 11
Fire Lake Elementary - Monday, September 8
Gladys Wood Elementary - Wednesday, September 10
Goldenview Middle School - Friday, September 12
Gruening Middle School - Monday, September 8
Hanshew Middle School - Friday, September 12
Lake Otis Elementary - Thursday, September 11
Mears Middle School - Thursday, September 11
Mirror Lake Middle School - Tuesday, September 9
Mountain View Elementary - Monday, September 8
Muldoon Elementary - Monday, September 8
Northern Lights ABC - Friday, September 12
Northstar Elementary - Thursday, September 11
Oceanview Elementary - Friday, September 12
Romig Middle School - Thursday, September 11
Scenic Park Elementary - Wednesday, September 10
Tyson Elementary - Monday, September 8
Wendler Middle School - Tuesday, September 9
Wonder Park Elementary - Wednesday, September 10