USA Rugby announces first Women's Eagles XVs residency program

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Four capped Eagles have joined the first XVs-specific residency program at the Olympic Training Center in southern California, USA Rugby announced Tuesday, as the national team heads into the final year of Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 preparations.

Coming off of the back of the second annual Women's Rugby Super Series - held in Utah this year following World Cup 2014 Finalist Rugby Canada's hosting north of the border in 2015 - Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg and the Women's National Team Pathway are dialing in on a World Cup travel squad, with further cases to be made this November as the team takes on France.

Brigham Young University graduate Jordan Gray, Molly Kinsella, Samantha Pankey, and Pennsylvania State University alumna Hope Rogers are staying in residence near the OTC with housing and training costs provided by the first-ever XVs residency program. With an eye to expand the program in the coming months, the High Performance staff is working to combine the XVs and sevens athletes and staff members to take full advantage of the facilities in Chula Vista.

"This move is part of the integration of the women's high performance program," said Alex Magleby, general manager of performance. "We need to work together to maximize the performance of the sevens and 15s programs by collaborating on staff, player development, and competitions."

Additionally, the athletes have been training with Women's Premier League's San Diego Surfers, with each earning a starting spot in the team's most recent match.

"Our players need to play 15s if we want to compete with the best," said Steinberg. "Not only can the athletes train at a world-class facility, they get to experience strong coaching and the opportunity to play good rugby with the Surfers."

Future plans to include additional athletes in southern California would allow for the Eagles to assemble more efficiently throughout the year having a stable training base, with the goal to have as many World Cup squad members in San Diego as possible to increase team continuity. It is not necessary for World Cup hopefuls to relocate to California, however, with several high-level clubs and colleges and the National Development Academies also promising elite training environments.

"We want to offer this option to the player, but it is not a requirement to come to San Diego," Steinberg said. "However, by having a core of the team in one place, it will significantly reduce the costs of assembly and allow us to close the gap in training days that teams like England have in their preparation."

A first of its kind for the national governing body, the residency program for XVs athletes will see the World Cup hopefuls follow a XVs-specific regimen based on the Eagles' standards and game plan, as well as train alongside the sevens residents. Working with Women's Eagles Sevens Head Coach Richie Walker and the soon-to-be-hired head of physical performance, the athletes will enhance their conditioning and essential skills in a full-time environment not unlike that of the NDAs.

ATAVUS Academy, a member of the USA Rugby Olympic Development Academy program and based at NS Performance in San Diego, has hosted training and workout sessions for the four XVs athletes while the sevens program has been away from the OTC, with training set to resume on-site in October.

Since the launch of the sevens residency program at the OTC in 2012, more than 30 athletes have been contracted to train full-time at the Olympic headquarters for the majority of summer sports, enjoying the world-class facilities and natural grass fields with professional staffers. During that time, several athletes have split years with the sevens and XVs national teams, hoping to achieve honors in both codes.

New schedule alignments for World Rugby's World Cups and the Olympics have given the Eagles a more concrete schedule in terms of player priority, with Walker's program a focus in 2015 and the early part of 2016. Several athletes originally selected to the Super Series in Salt Lake City earlier this year were unable to compete in any or all three matches due to sevens commitments, but the teams now have the means and resources to collectively pool national team talent and provide them with year-round competition.

"The opportunity to bring the sevens and 15s athletes closer together will help us develop world-class players for the World Cup in 2017, as well as prepare for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," Magleby said. "The more our best athletes get together to play and train, the better we will compete on the world stage."

Updates to the national team coaching staff and a Fall Tour roster, as well as an update on sevens residents, will be announced in due course.