Walker Selects Women’s Eagles Sevens Squad for Dubai

November 24, 2016

Walker Selects Women’s Eagles Sevens Squad for Dubai 

Doug Coil

The article represents a modified USA Rugby release.

The 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series begins at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens Dec. 1-2.

Head Coach Richie Walker has selected a squad of 12 that includes four Olympians from the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games as well as two of Team USA’s traveling reserves. Five players will also debut. The Eagles will play gold medalist and 2015-16 Series Champion Australia, Russia, and South Africa in pool play Thursday, Dec. 1 (U.S. time), before Friday’s knockout rounds.

Lauren Doyle will play in her 17th tournament. She and fellow Olympians Ryan Carlyle, Joanne Fa’avesi, and Alev Kelter have combined for 303 points on the circuit.

“There have been a lot of changes in the Residency program as players have gone on to do other things with their lives post-Rio or have not been renewed for this cycle,” Walker said. “I’m very happy for the four returning Olympians and excited to see them step up and be the next leaders of this team.”

Both Nicole Heavirland and Cheta Emba were traveling reserves for Rio.  Naya Tapper also adds speed to the squad Kristen Thomas, who is not yet 100-percent fit to travel with the team.

Fa’avesi, Kelter, Tapper, and Kate Zackary are all currently in Europe with the XVs program for its two November Tour test matches against France. The four will join Walker’s squad in Dubai following Friday’s final matchup.

AIG Women’s Collegiate All-Americans Bulou Mataitoga and Nicole Strasko will debut for the team. Strasko was also added to the Residency program in Chula Vista.

Kristine Sommer played with the Seattle Saracens program in both XVs and sevens. Lily Durbin and Olympian Richelle Stephens were training at the OTC while still attending Fallbrook High School, where Dubai selection Kayla Canett graduated earlier this spring. The 18-year-old is now attending Pennsylvania State University and will represent her country as the youngest American in Dubai next weekend.

“I’m very happy with the selections I have made, and excited to get the first tournament going to see what our new squad can do,” Walker said. “We’re looking to get these younger athletes more experience earlier rather than later for Rugby World Cup Sevens and, ideally, the 2020 Olympics.”

The national team coaching staff has taken a page out of the recent gold medalist’s book in utilizing several younger players in the same squad. Australia may have won four of six tournaments last season and held the largest points-difference in the standings since New Zealand’s win in 2012-13 – in addition to the Rio glory – but the program finished fifth behind the U.S. in Year One.

“Australia built its squad young in that first season, four years from Rio,” Walker said. “Two years out they took over, winning everything. We’re taking a page out of their book.

The Eagles will finish pool play in Dubai against Australia after matches against Russia and South Africa. The tournament kicks off in the early hours of Dec. 1 in the U.S., with broadcast details to be finalized in the next week.

Women’s Eagles Sevens | Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens
1. Cheta Emba
2. Ryan Carlyle
3. Kate Zackary
4. Alev Kelter
5. Nicole Heavirland
6. Lauren Doyle
7. Naya Tapper
8. Joanne Fa’avesi
9. Nicole Strasko
10. Kayla Canett
11. Kristine Sommer
12. Bulou Mataitoga

Women’s Eagles Sevens | Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens
v. Russia – Thursday, Dec. 1 @ 4:28 a.m. ET
v. South Africa – Thursday, Dec. 1 @ 7:24 a.m. ET
v. Australia – Thursday, Dec. 1 @ 10:43 a.m. ET


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North American Rugby News With A USA Slant