Falcons rosters released for Las Vegas Invitational

LAS VEGAS - Fifteen capped Men's and Women's Eagles Sevens players will be representing the United States as Falcons at the Las Vegas Invitational March 3-6.

The USA Falcons presented by Penn Mutual, coached by Jules McCoy, features recent HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series debutants Hunter Griendling, Ashley Perry, and Naya Tapper in the squad of 12. Veteran and Rugby World Cup Sevens bronze medalist Irene Gardner will co-captain the side along with Griendling, who scored 12 points in her first six matches on the circuit last month in Brazil.

The Series only allows for a maximum of 30 international matches with five stops across the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, the United States, Canada, and France. Along with McCoy's team welcoming Brazil, Canada, and Japan to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., for scrimmages, the LVI provides extra assembly time for the group to work on its new structures.

"We are using some non-circuit tournaments to vet new players into the system, as well as give them a chance to play into a circuit team before the Olympic selections," McCoy said.

The team is also young, with an average age of 25, and features 2015 Women's College Division I and College 7s National Champion Meya Bizer. Bizer and Richelle Stephens were members of last year's AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans Sevens squad that won Elite City Sevens, while the Falcons are also buoyed by former All-Americans Nicole Heavirland and Kristen Thomas.

Jessica Javelet joins Carlyle, Griendling, Perry, Tapper, and Thomas as Falcons that were just in São Paulo, and Kate Zackary will be looking to prove herself to the coaching staff for selection consideration for next month's HSBC Atlanta 7s.

"We put a younger midfield with some speed on the outside to push on defense, as well as to showcase our younger talent pool for 2016 and 2020," McCoy said.

The Eagles responded to an 11th-place finish in Dubai and a two-month layoff from the Series by reaching the third-place match at Brazil Women's Sevens last month, defeating then-third-ranked England in the Cup Quarterfinals. The sponsorship of Penn Mutual was vital to the Falcons' entry into the invitational tournament this weekend, where they will play select sides from Brazil and South Africa, as well as a domestic team from Stars Rugby, in pool play.

The Women's Elite 7s division's Cup Semifinals and Final will be played at Sam Boyd Stadium Sunday, March 6.

"Leanne Acton and Eileen McDonald from Penn Mutual have a key interest in the game played by women," McCoy said. "They made sure we attended the LVI with their generosity and, in turn, we will don their brand with pride.

"Kris Thomas is sponsored by Penn Mutual and is a member of our team's leadership council; she will be playing on this team as their representative."

The Falcons coached by Nese Malifa took third place in the elite men's division of the LVI in 2015, which followed the team's Cup Final defeat in 2014. Madison Hughes is just one of several Eagles in Las Vegas this year who have previously played with the Falcons, a list that includes Garrett Bender and Will Holder.

Matai Leuta was with the Falcons at the LVI last season before earning a call-up to the Eagles for the remainder of the 2014-15 Series. He will again be wearing the Falcons shirt in Las Vegas, while Pat Blair, Ben Leatigaga, Thretton Palamo, Shalom Suniula, and Peter Tiberio bring Series experience to the team coached by Paul Holmes and Malifa. Tiberio will captain the side.

"The guys have had a great High Performance Camp and the attitude with everyone is that we have a job to do and we need to perform to the levels that [Eagles Head Coach] Mike [Friday] and Chris [Brown] expect," Holmes said. "Also, guys know and realize that this is a vital opportunity for anyone on this squad to step up and take their opportunities."

Friday and co. will be watching at the LVI fields outside Sam Boyd Stadium as the invitational tournament begins the day prior to HSBC USA Sevens. He has previously stated there could be roster changes before the Eagles head to Vancouver next week for the sixth leg of the Series.

The remaining six players - Aaron "Spike" Davis, Seth Halliman, Tua Laei, Jope Motokana, ConRoy Smith, and Joey Sok - traveled to South America as Falcons in January, where they played in two tournaments with national teams from Argentina, Canada, and South Africa, as well as a few South American nations.

"First and foremost I'm looking for these boys to operate as a team," Friday said. "They know what expected of them in terms of the technical part: I'm looking for consistency.

"It's a step up, a progression from where they were in South America, and they know we're going to be there watching. They know they're expected to deliver in what will be a tough tournament."

The Falcons will face a France Development team, Florida RDA, and Tumatauenga in pool play of the renamed Americas Cup 7s division Thursday before a potential Cup Final appearance at Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday.

USA Falcons sponsored by Penn Mutual | Las Vegas Invitational

1. Carmen Farmer

2. Meya Bizer

3. Kate Zackary

4. Ashley Perry

5. Nicole Heavirland

6. Irene Gardner

7. Ryan Carlyle

8. Hunter Griendling

9. Richelle Stephens

10. Jessica Javelet

11. Kristen Thomas

12. Naya Tapper

USA Falcons sponsored by Penn Mutual | Las Vegas Invitational

v. Brazil Women's 7s - Thursday, March 3 @ 8:40 a.m. PT

v. Stars Rugby 2 - Thursday, March 3 @ 11:20 a.m. PT

v. South Africa Select - Friday, March 4 @ 8:40 a.m. PT

USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

Pat Blair

Aaron Davis - 1823 / Tiger Rugby

Seth Halliman - Central Washington University

Tua Laei - Brigham Young University / Rugby Utah

Ben Leatigaga - U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program

Matai Leuta

Jope Motokana - Seattle Saracens

Thretton Palamo

ConRoy Smith

Joey Sok - Columbus Rugby Club / Tiger Rugby

Shalom Suniula

Peter Tiberio

Not considered for selection:

Nic Edwards

Kevin Swiryn

Brett Thompson

Stephen Tomasin

Chris Turori

USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

v. Florida RDA - Thursday, March 3 @ 8 a.m. PT

v. France Development - Thursday, March 3 @ 10:40 a.m. PT

v. Tumatauenga - Thursday, March 3 @ 1:20 p.m. PT