Eagles heading into Super Series represent collective group of clubs

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - One of the biggest challenges of National Team assemblies, especially ahead of the first match of a tour, is getting a collective group of rugby players on the same page and playing well as a unit. The recently called-on Women's Eagles competing in the Women's Rugby Super Series in Salt Lake City are currently attempting to build a cohesive unit after Head Coach Pete Steinberg tabbed a group of players from 13 senior clubs to represent the United States in a three-match test series.

The Women's Premier League is still a driving force in preparing athletes for Eagle selection. Six of the elite competition's eight teams have representation on the Eagles squad selected for July, and half of those six teams have multiple selections.

Kathryn Augustyn has proved to be one of the most reliable front rowers in the Eagle setup, and has been equally impressive with the Berkeley All Blues over the years. She will be joined in the front row for the Eagles first match against France with prop Tiffany Faaee of New York Rugby. Faaee will be the only New Yorker player lining up against France, but club teammate Laruen Rhode was named a non-traveling reserve

Like Rhode, Sylvia Braaten was originally named a non-traveling reserve, but finds herself in the starting XV after Nicole Heavirland returned to the Olympic Training Center to continue training with the Women's Eagles Sevens. Braaten has spent time with Chicago North Shore, but has most recently been a massive part to the Twin Cities Amazons back line and helped the Minneapolis outfit win a 2013 WPL National Championship.

Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 scrum half Deven Owsiany of the San Diego Surfers, a pair of DC Furies in Samantha Pankey and Kimberly Rozier and Glendale's Molly Kinsella, Joanna Kitlinski, and Jennifer Lui round out the WPL players in the Eagles squad.

While the eight-team competition comprising some of the very best teams in the country is well represented, this month's Eagles ply their trade with a diverse group of clubs from across nation.

"The WPL continues to be an important selection and development tool for USA players, but we have now opened up the selection process with more scouting, National Tracking Camps, and the National All-Star Competitions," said Steinberg.

Several players pulled double duty to earn their Eagle jerseys at the most recent National All-Star Competition that was used to select the Eagles for the Super Series. Christiane Pheil acted as player/coach for Chicago North Shore in the June 4 DI Club Championship in Denver before catching up with the rest of the Eagle hopefuls in Northern Colorado immediately following her team's loss in the title game to Seattle Saracens.

Likewise, the Eagles representing Life West - Catherine Benson, Megan Foster and Jennifer Sever - earned their stars and stripes by showing well at the NASC directly after its DII National Championship victory.

It is not only teams with Championship pedigrees that are up for selection. A wider range of National Team scouts has made it possible for any player in any corner of the country to get picked for the Eagles. The Augusta Furies (Jamila Reinhardt), Austin Valkyries (Sara Parson), Burlington Rugby (Baylee Annis), Hartford Wild Roses (Alycia Washington), and Houston Athletic (Nick James) have never reached a Club Championship Final, but are playing at a very high level and have some seriously talented individual players. In fact, the five clubs combined for a 27-4-1 conference record during the 2015-16 season, and four of the teams won their conference.

Outside of the 10 WPL players, the rest of the club cohorts played in spring competitions that led to postseason matches, which benefitted the players leading up to the all important six-day NASC in Greeley.

"I think that players that play in the spring have an advantage at the summer NASC," noted Steinberg. "Training is important, but the intensity that competition brings is what raises your game. Players that had not played since November will always struggle. But that is why we have two games at the NASC, so hopefully by the second game everyone is ready to play."

Spring-competing club players may have had a leg up on the competition at last month's NASC, but Steinberg and his staff feel they will ultimately benefit from WPL's spring season as the Eagles look towards the 2017 World Cup - which will be held in the month of August.

"WPL players will be coming off their competitive season when they come to the fall tour," Steinberg explained. "Leading to the World Cup, it is good to keep the spring free for the Eagles to have camps and play international matches where they can. So, the WPL season is good for the program, and is not a huge issue for the players."

Fans' first chance to watch this distinct group of Eagles representing club, college, and National Development Academy programs is July 1 against France. The fixture against France kicks off 5 p.m. MT and will be aired live on The Rugby Channel.

Women's Eagles | Women's Rugby Super Series
v. France - Friday, July 1 @ 5 p.m. MT
v. Canada - Tuesday, July 5 @ 5 p.m. MT
v. England - Saturday, July 9 @ 3 p.m. MT