AIG MJAAs selected for Winter Camp

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. - Interim Head Coach JD Stephenson and the coaching staff of the AIG Men's Junior All-Americans have called on 52 under-20-eligble athletes to attend the Winter Camp at Casa Grande Academy Saturday, Dec. 19, through Tuesday, Dec. 22.

The MJAAs will play Canada's under-20 representative in Austin, Texas, Feb. 13, 2016, alongside the Men's Eagles' home Americas Rugby Championship match against the border rival's senior side. The winner of the one-off match will qualify for the World Rugby U20 Trophy, set for Zimbabwe in April.

Scott Lawrence was hired as head coach of the MJAAs in August, and stepped down from the position upon promotion in his work duties. The former head coach, who led the MJAAs to a U20 Trophy victory when USA Rugby hosted the tournament in Salt Lake City in 2012, is still assisting the program as technical director.

"Coach Lawrence has been great with information sharing and building of an online database of videos, images, and documents that will assist in continued remote development of players," Stephenson, director of rugby and head coach at Lindenwood University, said. "We are also fortunate enough to be able to utilize BridgeAthletic to ensure that the strength and conditioning component will be spot on and that players can interactively report their testing results, coaches can monitor their progression, and there is responsibility and accountability on the player to do the right thing."

Familiar names on the attendees list for the Winter Camp include Nick Kwasniewski and Darien Pickett of Grand Canyon University, who wore the red, white, and blue in the two-match Trophy Qualifier series north of the border earlier this year. Pickett, along with University of Arizona's Steven Branham, University of Colorado's Evan Clark, and American International College's Jihad Khabir, also attended the first-ever USA Rugby Men's Junior and Collegiate Stars and Stripes Camp presented by WellDog.

Eleven athletes have progressed through the national team pathway from the Boys High School All-Americans in the past 17 months, competing with Salty Thompson's squads against the likes of the under-18 teams of Argentina, Italy, and Uruguay, as well as sevens specialization at Rosslyn Park Sevens and the Las Vegas Invitational.

A number of under-20-eligible players invited to Arizona were unable to attend the Winter Camp due to conflicting schedules with school and the holiday season, as well as a few injuries, but will be considered for the camp in January prior to the final assembly in Texas ahead of match day.

Joining the players at Camp is an extensive coaching staff, including Michael Engelbrecht and Justin Goonan, who have coached high school athletes in the national team pathway at the Stars and Stripes Camp. Following training sessions Monday, Dec. 21, the coaching staff will split athletes into three teams for three 40-minute matches Tuesday, Dec. 22.

As an assistant coach at Lindenwood, Stephenson helped lead the rugby program in St. Charles, Mo., to a Division II National Championship in its inaugural season. Following the 2012-13 season, in which the Lions fell in the D1AA National Championship Final, Stephenson was promoted to head coach and director of rugby operations. Lindenwood moved to D1A Rugby's Mid-South Conference and has reached the Playoff Semifinals in both years of competition, and won the College 7s National Championship in 2015. Stephenson has also aided the age-grade national teams as a specialist coach at multiple assemblies in the past five years.

"The coaches have a diverse skill set to meet the needs of our identification piece in a limited time span for our assembly," Stephenson said. "We will therefore look to utilize our coaches' experience and expertise to take the lead in different areas, culminating in a match on the last day of camp to ensure we have seen all facets of the players' games."

The final assembly roster will be selected following the camp in January, with the location of said camp to be confirmed.

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | 2015 Winter Camp

* Plays in D1A Rugby competition

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | 2015 Winter Camp Coaching Staff

JD Stephenson - Interim Head Coach / Attack Coach

Scott Lawrence - Defense Coach

Michael Engelbrecht - Backs Coach / Manager

Paule Barford - Forwards Coach

Kevin Battle - Skills Coach

Justin Goonan - Strength and Conditioning Coach

Dennis Greenhill - Physiotherapist / Trainer