Throwback Thursday: Eagles go 'Further Beyond' on way to WRWC '02

Ireland will host the eighth Women's Rugby World Cup this August, 26 years since the USA Women's Eagles won the first world championship in 1991. Each Thursday leading up to the tournament, USA Rugby will be taking a look at the history of the WRWC and the Eagles' performances through the years. This month, the focus is on the 2002 WRWC in Spain.

Photo: U.S. women's sevens team at Hong Kong Women's Sevens in 1999 featured WRWC 2002 Eagles Kim Cyganik, Nancy Fitz, and Inés Rodriguez

April 13 TBT

It was not just a new head coach for the USA Women's Eagles in 2000, but a newer crop of players, as well. Gone - from the field of play - were experienced heads Jos Bergman, Barb Bond, Jen Crawford, Krista McFarren, Candi Orsini, and others, though most would continue to be involved with the national team as Directing Officers. One World Cup-winning Eagle, Tam Breckenridge, was invited to join Martin Gallagher's coaching staff along with Kiwi George Meuarau, connecting the new leadership with the younger squad.

With sevens gaining popularity as more international opportunities popped up - including early talks of a potential Olympics inclusion that would not materialize until nearly a decade later - and the high rate of turnover following the U.S.'s third Final appearance at Women's Rugby World Cup 1998, it was important not to cannibalize the player pool as the rugby athletes in the country prioritized one version of the game over the other.

As ITTs became more convoluted with the additions and splits of Territorial Unions, Gallagher, residing full-time across the pond, leaned more on the ex-Eagles to assist in gathering international-level players for selections. A tour to Scotland and Wales in the fall of 2001 saw the head coach select a rather open group of players with a plan to test team dynamics. Using the knowledge gained from the 1-1 tour and additional playing time for the athletes at a more diluted ITT, Gallagher came up with a 26-player squad for Spain.

Forwards Nancy Fitz (captain), Liz Kirk, Meredith Ottens, and Alex Williams - four of the seven World Cup veterans in the team - were cornerstones of a leadership group that brought the athletes together as Eagles. Nearly half of the team had been capped in the tough three-year period prior to 2002, with three set to make their debuts on the biggest stage of them all. As the athletes got more and more used to Gallagher's hands-on coaching style in his first go-round with women's rugby and continued to battle the inherent difficulties of their game, they began to take charge themselves.

"I can't say enough about Fitz's captaincy," Breckenridge said. "Having long conversations with Martin and the players, keeping everyone together and focused, and keeping them from getting too down on themselves in a transitional period for the national program. In many ways the leadership came from the players, sticking it out when conditions maybe weren't ideal."

The three debutants in the opening pool game against the Netherlands found their stride alongside their teammates as the Eagles trounced the '98 host for a second time at a World cup, 87-0. Feeling upbeat and confident in their game plan, Gallagher's Eagles lined up against France May 20, 2002, in a Pool B clash that would ultimately decide the U.S.'s fate in the tournament.

April 27 TBT

  Emil Signes

USA Women's Eagles | Women's Rugby World Cup 2002
Hedwig Aerts - New York Rugby Football Club
Kristin Baja - Washington Furies Rugby Football Club
Libby Caplan - University of Northern Iowa
Jen Crouse - Beantown Women's Rugby Football Club
Kim Cyganik - Maryland Stingers Women's Rugby Football Club
Stacey Davis - East Bay Bulldogs Women's Rugby Club
Shari Dahlberg - Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club
Jill Fenske - University of California, Los Angeles Women's Rugby
Nancy Fitz (C) - Washington Women's Rugby Football Club
Stacey Foley - Keystone Rugby Club
Cynthia Gehrke - Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club
Heather Hale (VC) - Washington Women's Rugby Football Club
Patty Jervey - Atlanta Harlequins Women's Rugby Club
Ellie Karvoski - New York Rugby Football Club
Liz Kirk - Seattle Rugby Football Club
Phaidra Knight - Wisconsin Women's Rugby Football Club
Elizabeth Lake - Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club
Kerry McCabe - Beantown Women's Rugby Football Club
Becky Metzger - Maryland Stingers Women's Rugby Football Club
Meredith Ottens - Minnesota Valkyries Rugby Football Club
Ines Rodriguez - Keystone Rugby Club
Myra Sandquist-Reuter - Twin Cities Amazons
Jen Sikora - Keystone Rugby Club
Katie Stewart - New York Rugby Football Club
Bex Wallison - New York Rugby Football Club
Alex Williams - Berkeley Women's All Blues Rugby Club

Martin Gallagher - Head Coach
Tam Breckenridge - Forwards Coach
George Metuarau - Backs Coach
James J. Sullivan, Ph.D - Strenth & Conditioning Coach
Katie Wilson - Team Physiotherapist
Jane Tierney - Team Manager