Final World Cup stretch begins with National All-Star Competition

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - More than 90 athletes have accepted invitations to the Women's Eagles National All-Star Competition to be held at Tigertown Complex in Lakeland, Fla., Dec. 29, 2016, through Jan. 3, 2017.

Beginning about eight months from kickoff of Women's Rugby World Cup 2017, the NASC will produce a greater WRWC player pool for Head Coach Pete Steinberg and staff, consisting of around 35 or 40 players. The core group will then assume the focus of the national team's attention in the final build-up to Ireland, which may include international matches held domestically.

The Eagles are coming off of a two-match November Tour of France, where the team was coached by Associate Head Coach Peter Baggetta. WRWC veteran Hope Rogers, 23, captained the U.S. in two losses, though the team was able to incorporate the debut of several sevens standouts and younger players amongst a core group. Additionally, venturing on an international tour not unlike what the athletes will experience at a World Cup proved invaluable to players and staff.

"Off the field, the team did a great job," Steinberg said. "They handled some of the challenges really well. The culture of the team is in a good place. We have a lot of strong team leaders that are really helping to manage the team's interactions. It was a very positive tour."

Building off of the most recent tour and the two Women's Rugby Super Series events in North America since the end of the 2014 World Cup cycle, the NASC is designed to test both players and coaches in an international-like environment. Concentrating less on individual skill, the coaching staff will split the roster into teams to bring about a competitive atmosphere, driving the athletes to fight for roster spots.

Some young athletes selected to the NASC will be part of the AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans portion of camp, a developmental squad that could produce World Cup Eagles. The seniors and developmental party will compete in two matches each across the match days of Dec. 31 and Jan. 3, with the prospect of moving up the ranks in camp healthy motivation.

"The NASC, for us, is a selection venue," Steinberg said. "There's not a lot of time for player development. We're going to be playing what we think is our current top 15 versus our 'next' 15 to get our best players together and get the highest level of play out of the athletes.

"If someone in the first game plays better than their opposite number, then they can be in the top 15. Then we have a bunch of players we're bringing in who have been on the cusp of the Eagles, and we want to give them an opportunity."

Comprised of some of the country's top club and collegiate talent, the NASC roster features numerous Women's Premier League and Club and College National Championships affiliations. Several Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games Team USA members will also be in attendance, including Olympic captain Kelly Griffin.

Steinberg has worked in close conjunction with Women's Eagles Sevens Head Coach Richie Walker to identify those in residency at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., that could transfer to the 15-a-side version of the game in a compressed timeframe. Both coaches have highlighted the need for athletes to play high-level rugby as a condition for improvement, with the NASC beneficial to the 15s and sevens programs.

Olympians Joanne Fa'avesi and Alev Kelter were on debut in the backs in France last month, slotting into an attacking structure that has been cultivated since 2014. As much as it was important for those kinds of players to earn international 15s experience, the coaching staff learned plenty from the France Tour in terms of needs for the team in the final months of World Cup preparation.

"With the sevens players that we have engaged this year, I'm confident we have the athleticism in the bag," Steinberg said. "In the forwards, probably the biggest area of need is identifying the best back-row combination. There are a lot of good back-row players, but we're trying to work out the best combination and getting them to play together.

"In our attacking structure, we think we took some steps forward. The thing that has consistently plagued us this year is basically skill breakdowns: dropping the ball, not making the right pass or passing effectively, missing the tackle. Those are just individual skill issues that have been hard for us to address, and a reason why we're changing our approach a bit."

An opportunity for domestic coaches to attend the NASC and gain experience working in a High Performance environment has been made possible through the Elite Coach Development Program, as well. Coaches from outside of the national teams will be tested themselves on how to work in a short assembly as opposed to the season- or year-long timetables they may have with a club or college program.

A greater Women's Rugby World Cup pool will be announced following the culmination of the NASC in Lakeland, while a 2017 calendar will also be finalized.

National All-Star Competition | Senior Participants
Adekemi Adewunmi - Black Ice Women's Rugby
Baylee Annis - Seattle Saracens
Kathryn Augustyn - Berkeley All Blues
Nicole Benedetti - Brandywine Women's Rugby Club
Catie Benson - Life West Women's Rugby
Elizabeth Berg - Mayhem Rugby Football Club of Minneapolis
Ida Bernstein - D.C. Furies
T'yara Blades - Texas A&M University
Tia Blythe - San Diego Surfers
Sylvia Braaten - Twin Cities Amazons
Stacey Bridges - Twin Cities Amazons
Kaitlyn Broughton - Life University
Sarah Buonopane - Beantown Rugby Football Club
Nicole Burr - Augusta Women's Rugby Football Club
Ashlee Byrge - Central Washington University
Gabriella Cantorna - Pennsylvania State University
Ryan Carlyle - Eagles Sevens Residency
Scout Cheeks - Pennsylvania State University
Sarah Chobot - Glendale Raptors
Monique Compito - Atlanta Harlequins
Kate Daley - New York Rugby Club
Cheta Emba - Eagles Sevens Residency
Joanne Fa'avesi - Eagles Sevens Residency
Tess Feury - Pennsylvania State University
Patricia Ford - Glendale Raptors
Megan Foster - Life West Women's Rugby
Chelsea Garber - Raleigh Rugby Club
Jordan Gray - Eagles Residency
Rachel Griendling - San Diego Surfers
Kelly Griffin - Unattached
Jacqueline Hamby - United States Air Force Academy
Paris Hart - Oregon (Rugby) Sports Union
Nicole Heavirland - Eagles Sevens Residency
Rebekah Hebdon - Brigham Young University
Courtney Hendrickson - Berkeley All Blues
Grace Hovde - Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club
Emily Hranchook - Oakland University
Nicole James - Houston Athletic Rugby Club
Bailey Johnson - Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club
Rachel Johnson - Oregon (Rugby) Sports Union
Alev Kelter - Eagles Sevens Residency
Lauren Kenyon - Life West Women's Rugby
Brianna Kim - Northern Virginia Women's Rugby Football Club
Molly Kinsella - Eagles Residency
Joanna Kitlinski - Glendale Raptors
Phaidra Knight - New York Rugby Club
Kimberly Knipe - Atlanta Harlequins
Haley Langan - Harvard University
Rachel Lentsch - Twin Cities Amazons
Darian Lovelace - Life University
Jennifer Lui - Glendale Raptors
Samantha Luther - Beantown Rugby Football Club
Katherine Lutton - James River Women's Rugby Football Club
Aurora Macek - Northern Illinois University
Emily Magee - New York Rugby Club
Bulou Mataitoga - Berkeley All Blues
Grace McGurn - University of Notre Dame
Dana Meschisi - San Diego Surfers
Saskia Morgan - Scion Sirens
Marjorie Olney - D.C. Furies
Alena Olsen - University of Michigan
Danielle Ordway - Davenport University
Samantha Pankey - Eagles Residency
AnnaKaren Pedraza - Lindenwood University
Ashley Perry - American Rugby Pro Training Center
Christiane Pheil - Chicago North Shore Women's Rugby Football Club
Melissa Polheber - Glendale Raptors
Sisillia Puaka - Belmont Shore Women's Rugby Football Club
Naima Reddick - Seattle Saracens
Jamila Reinhardt - San Diego Surfers
Lauren Rhode - Berkeley All Blues
Hope Rogers - Eagles Residency
Megan Rom - Life University
Kyla Roth - San Diego Surfers
Ashlee Salato - United States Air Force Academy
Francesca Sands - Dartmouth College
Kristen Shalosky - Glendale Raptors
Kristine Sommer - Seattle Saracens
Kelsi Stockert - Seattle Saracens
Hannah Stolba - Glendale Raptors
Nicole Strasko - Atlanta Harlequins
Ashaunte Stroman - Florida International University
Grace Taito - Brigham Young University
Naya Tapper - Eagles Sevens Residency
Kristen Thomas - Eagles Sevens Residency
Elizabeth Trujillo - San Diego Surfers
Abby Vogel - University of California, Berkeley
Danielle Walko Siua - Notre Dame College
Alycia Washington - New York Rugby Club
Brittany White - University of Minnesota
Kayla Williams - Augusta Women's Rugby Football Club
Jessica Wooden - Unattached
Justine Wypych - Glendale Raptors
Kate Zackary - San Diego Surfers
Kristin Zdanczewicz - Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club

National All-Star Competition | Staff
Coaches
- Peter Baggetta
- Bernie Cantorna
- Martha Daines
- Mel Denham
- Liz Kirk
- Adam Russell
- Pete Steinberg
- Richie Walker
- Sue Whitwell
Coach Advisors
- Rick Humm
- Lisa Rosen
Emerging Coach Development Program
- Nic Benson
- Ryszard Chadwick
- Adam Dick
- Hannah Lockwood
- Billy Nicholas
- Emily Record
- Craig Wilson
Managers
- Carrie DuBray
- Annemarie Farrell
- Jeff Horton
- Roshna Wunderlich
Strength and Conditioning/High Performance
- Ian Gibbons
- Adam Russell
Video
- Caitlin Singletary
Medical
- Terrence Cronin - Team Doctor
- Bri Arsenault
- Gage Berry
- Katherine Henry
- Amie Kern
Referees
- Kahlil Harrison
- Mark Hawkins
- Emily Hsieh