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