Team named for AIG MJAAs’ U20 Trophy qualifier in Austin

HOUSTON - JD Stephenson has selected a USA Rugby AIG Men's Junior All-American squad of 26 young athletes to take on Canada's under-20s Saturday, Feb. 13, at Dell Diamond in Austin, Texas.

Featuring four players that were part of last year's losing effort to the Canadians north of the border, the MJAAs will face their rivals in a one-off World Rugby U20 Trophy qualifier following the Americas Rugby Championship senior fixture earlier in the evening. Kickoff between the age-grade sides is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. CT with a live stream available on USA Rugby TV.

As interim head coach, Stephenson has worked with more than 40 athletes throughout the fall and winter to prepare for the playoff, be it in camps in Arizona and Missouri or via communication with those unable to attend camps. The 26-man squad is made up of 14 players currently playing collegiate rugby domestically, each able to balance studies along with learning the patterns of Stephenson's game plan.

Included in the squad are four Lindenwood University student-athletes that are coached by the school's director of rugby and head coach, Stephenson, in addition to nine other D1A Rugby representatives.

"Familiarity of players is a bonus when designing processes and roles for individuals in the side," Stephenson said. "However, there is also the added pressure to the Lindenwood players of expectations and standards that they need to hold themselves to given they are accountable to them on a daily basis. Nevertheless, we have closely watched and have been in contact with all players in our squad, which allows for familiarity of all players."

Aiding the communication between the coaching staff and MJAA-hopefuls, BridgeAthletic's software has provided strength, conditioning, and skill training program management; test data management; and performance logging since athlete identification and selection began last year.

On top of the professional tools available, however, has been the commitment of the young athletes to ensure they are fully prepared for a match that holds the key to an international tournament appearance. A win in Austin would book the team's trip to Zimbabwe for the U20 Trophy, a tournament in which the U.S. has not featured since 2014 - a third-place performance.

"As a coaching staff we have leveraged all forms of technology to ensure that a clear message of roles and responsibilities have been conveyed to the players," Stephenson said. "There has been a considerable amount of prep work done between camps to ensure playbooks, terminology, processes, and outcomes are aligned between player and coaching staff.

"We are fortunate to have a very respectful and diligent playing group that is willing to go the extra mile to be successful."

Austin Blacks, runners-up in this past year's USA Rugby Division I Club National Championship match, will host the MJAAs during their stay in Texas, and will offer controlled scrimmages as a warm-up to the fixture at Dell Diamond. The MJAAs are set to arrive in Austin Saturday, Feb. 6.

The Men's Eagles' match against the Canadian senior side in the Americas Rugby Championship will be broadcast live on ESPN 3 at 6 p.m. CT Feb. 13, with the MJAA match to follow on USA Rugby TV at 8:45 p.m. CT.

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | World Rugby U20 Trophy qualifier