AIG MJAA squad announced for U20 Trophy

ST. CHARLES, Mo. - AIG Men's Junior All-American Head Coach JD Stephenson has selected a travel squad of 26 athletes for the upcoming World Rugby U20 Trophy in Zimbabwe.

Also director of rugby at Lindenwood University, Stephenson was hired as interim head coach of the MJAAs last fall, and held two camps in two months to nail down selections for the U20 Trophy qualifier team to take on Canada. Captained by Hanco Germishuys - now one of the youngest American players in professional rugby with PRO Rugby's Denver team - the MJAAs defeated their border rival, 19-18, to reach the under-20 championship event in Harare.

Germishuys will again captain the team, which is set for a camp on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles April 10-13 before leaving for Zimbabwe April 14. In all, 14 members of the squad were in the match-day 23 for the qualifier at Dell Diamond in Austin, Texas, including starters Ben Cima (fly half), Louis Mulholland (scrum half), and Lorenzo Thomas (center). Cima kicked the match-winning penalty goal from beyond midfield, while Thomas' play earned him a call-up to the Men's Eagles during their remaining Americas Rugby Championship matches.

Only five players selected for the U20 Trophy were not with the team in Texas, including Lindenwood's Travis Heer - who replaces fellow Lion wing Deion Mikesell, unavailable for the trip - and Victor Comptat, playing professional rugby in France for C.A. Brive.

"We have had consistent weekly dialogue and feedback between each player's respective program; from their head coach, strength and conditioning coach, to their athletic trainer," Stephenson said. "This has allowed for continued player development and line of communication that are consistent between the MJAAs and the programs. Couple this with the daily wellbeing surveys that our players have been completing and we have a good understanding mentally, physically, and tactically if the players are prepared.

"We have laid the foundation of the understanding of the experimental law variations that will be used and have started our installations of our attack, defense, and set piece to be utilized against our respective opponents. This camp will serve the purpose of ensuring that we have the best possible platform to launch from at the U20 Trophy."

The head coach has also scheduled run-outs against the local Lions side for Monday, April 11, and Tuesday, April 12, to familiarize the players with each other as well as the aforementioned experimental law variations. One of the more interesting variations to be applied in Zimbabwe is the points values, with tries worth six points and successful conversion and penalty goal attempts each worth two points.

The U20 Trophy is held during the academic semester for under-20 student-athletes, sometimes causing scheduling conflicts for players eligible for the MJAAs' springtime competitions. This year, the U20 Trophy is scheduled alongside the collegiate playoffs for rounds of the D1A and Division 1AA competitions, with 11 players from University of Arizona, Life University, Lindenwood, and Louisiana State University all prepared to miss at least three rounds of the D1A Rugby postseason while in Africa. Additionally, Germishuys will miss the first three weeks of the PRO season.

"I think there is merit in all competitions that our playing group is drawn from," Stephenson said. "That being said, there is no higher accolade for a player to represent his or her country and the standard of play at the international level gives the players that well-rounded aspect to their game.

"Being able to adapt to a completely different playing group, coaching philosophies, individual playing expectations, and key performance indicators is a challenge in itself, and to do that up against some of the best age-grade players in the world pushes the boundaries as a player and for ourselves as coaches."

The MJAAs will play Hong Kong, Namibia, and Spain in the round robin pool play to determine the matchups for the Finals day May 1.

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

Malon Al-JibooriLindenwood UniversityFlanker
Sam BenkowskiMetropolisProp
Steven BranhamUniversity of ArizonaHooker
Benjamin CimaRocky GorgeFly half
Victor ComptatCA BriveLock
Ruben de HaasLittle Rock Junior StormersScrum half
Brennan FalconLouisiana State UniversityFlanker
Hanco GermishuysDenver (PRO)Flanker
Rodney GilesHenley HawksFull back
Brian HannonIUPUICenter
Travis HeerLindenwood UniversityWing
Carter HunchikLife UniversityProp
Devin LimUCLACenter
Deven MarshallUnaffliatedLock
Louis MulhollandBath UniversityScrum half
Mason PedersenUniversity of ArizonaProp
Roman SalanoaKahuku High SchoolProp
Chad SneydGosford RugbyLock
Tyler SousleyUniversity of ArizonaWing
Veuki TaumoefolauLas Vegas IrishNumber Eight
Bronson TelesKaty BarbariansLock
Lorenzo ThomasLindenwood UniversityCenter
Ruairi Van RaalteUtiku Old BoysHooker
Duncan Van SchalkwykLife UniversityFly half
Chance WenglewskiLindenwood UniversityProp
Mitchell WilsonLife UniversityFull back

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | 2016 World Rugby U20 Trophy

JD Stephenson - Head Coach

Michael Engelbrecht - Assistant Coach

Shawn Pittman - Assistant Coach

Justin Goonan - Assistant Coach

James Walton - Analyst

Dr. Terrence Cronin - Team Doctor

Brian Finn - Athletic Trainer

AIG Men's Junior All-Americans | 2016 World Rugby U20 Trophy

v. Namibia - Tuesday, April 19 @ 4 a.m. ET

v. Hong Kong - Sunday, April 23 @ 10 a.m. ET

v. Spain - Thursday, April 27 @ 10 a.m. ET