Monday, December 30, 2013

A Little More Background AND Introducing Jamie VanDerKrake

As the Stars 7s team has formed over the past 4 weeks one of our operating principles is that we want to give players from smaller universities - the players that aren't at a Penn State, Stanford or Norwich, those not playing in USA Rugby nationals each year - a chance to develop alongside more experienced women's club/international players. It still remains the case with rugby in the USA that most collegiate women happen to find a program at the university they choose to attend for academic reasons (or for other sports initially; crossover athletes make up a good chunk of rugby rosters).

The distinction between Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 colleges can often seem random - depending on geography, coaching, school funding, alumnae interaction and more. The strength of programs varies greatly and can dramatically swing year to year pending graduation (rugby has a very different recruiting pathway again depending on the university and the organization of a club's board), coaching, fundraising - you get the general idea. There are more varsity rugby programs than ever before with universities such as Quinnipiac, Davenport (Michigan), American International College, Eastern Illinois University, Life University (Georgia), and the special cases of the Ivy League colleges and military academies, but these opportunities are still few as compared to rugby in Canada which is supported by their collegiate athletic governing bodies (the Canadian NCAA if you will).

Thus one of the Stars main missions is to give these athletes from smaller schools, from the unheralded programs that may struggle for coaches, for numbers, for funding, a chance to both learn and to be seen - the opportunities that those of us at more established programs have had. If we can bridge these gaps, give players from "rugby deserts" a change to experience higher levels of the game and to inspire them to continue their rugby careers and pursue additional playing opportunities, then those of us "old girls" have done our job. Rugby is about giving back and as the Stars family grows we'd love to one day establish a scholarship fund to assist our U-23s in attending elite camps to further develop their game. As a part of each tour we'll be pairing up "Shooting Stars" buddies where the younger players have a "big sister" type mentor for the trip. Plus exchanging a jersey and giving pre-game gifts is just plain fun!

So with that in mind, here's the first of our lovely ruggers from Florida - Jamie VanDerKrake! Florida lacks the wealth of rugby opportunities you may find in the Midwest or Northeast. Geography plays a large role in the limitations on the clubs down south, as does the access to coaches/senior clubs other regions enjoy. The Stars are proud to have 6 players from Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University on our teams - and women from Fort Miami that had to pass on this tour but will be traveling on future tours - and we can't wait to see what happens!

In Jamie's words:

I'm a Sophomore criminal justice/criminology major at Florida Atlantic University. I've always played sports and I couldn't picture my life without athletics. Although, I've only been playing rugby for a year, the love I have for it feels like it goes far beyond that. 

I joined my FAU Team a year ago, one of the best decisions I've made. I had no idea what rugby was until I stepped out on the pitch, sometimes I feel like I still don't know! There's always something new, that damn scrum cadence always changing, which makes me love it that much more. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, your past, you become part of the rugby family when you step proudly out on the pitch.  

This tournament helps me prove my dedication to myself and rugby. I want to progress and continue to grow better as a player. I see this amazing opportunity as a chance to do so.


Hoser Howl

It wouldn't be rugby in Las Vegas without plenty of festivities! We got this invite tonight for the first Hoser Howl event on Thursday night at the Hard Rock Hotel:

Hello Teams!
For the lead up to the IRB USA 7's (Jan. 24,25 and 26) we are announcing thefirst annual HOSER HOWL! An event with combined endeavors between the Dog River Howlers Rugby Club, Canadian Classics, Rugby Canada, USA Sevens, the Hard Rock Hotel, and X-treme Rugby Wear (sponsor of the Hoser Howl toques), with all profits going back to the youth development of the game!
It will be held Thursday January 23, 2014, in the famous Vinyl Room at the Hard Rock Hotel, starting at 8:30 pm and going until "the cows come home.” The ultimate party band, Saskatchewan’s 2013 Roots Artist Of The Year, country artist Blake Berglund, will be providing the entertainment. 

Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas (also known as Bob and Doug McKenzie), the beer swilling Canadian brothers from STV's "Great White North" skits, originated the word Hoser, which was your typical perceived beer-drinking-bumpkin Canadian, who wears a flannel shirt along with a toque, and does nothing but watch hockey. For this event, we'll have the toques and the beer, but we will substitute the game of hockey with rugby!
A $25 ticket purchased online or at the door will give you a one of a kind Hoser Howl toque, a complimentary beer, and one of the best Country party-bands in Hoserland. A $50 VIP ticket will give you the toque, 3 complimentary beers, and VIP seating.
Five hundred presale regular tickets for $25 and 50 VIP tickets for $50 are now on sale on the following web page 
We will party all night in typical Hoser fashion meanwhile supporting youth rugby, and then TAKE OFF, EH!
The Hoser Howl is the kick off to all the festivities at the Hard Rock Hotel. There will be parties and events Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at our 2014 LVI sponsor, another great reason to stay at the Hard Rock!
We Hope to See You There!

Presenting Cara Thayer

Liz's note: Cara's another Sinner... South Buffalo Sinner that is (Really is there a better name for a women's rugby team sending players to Vegas? Maybe the Slots!). She's precisely the type of player we're pleased to have in our rosters - great rugby experience at D3 collegiate and D2 club levels, fit, and ready to test herself with higher level competition. Here's her story:

I first started playing rugby 7 years ago, and have played literally every position on the field since.  Some worked for me some did not, I've found that my place is either at scrumhalf or as a loose forward, although due to my size I sometimes get put out on wing.  I was lucky enough to join a hidden gem of a collegiate program during my freshman year at Canisius College where in my first year of playing we were DIII NYS Champs and with only a few months of experience under my belt was playing in the DIII Nationals game.  The next year we had another undefeated season and were 2nd in NYS. 

When I graduated from college I took a small break from rugby to focus on my career and landed the job of my dreams on the design team at New Era Cap headquarters in Buffalo, NY.  Being permanently settled in Buffalo unfortunately does not offer much for a rugby player due to a lack of highly competitive rugby.  In January of 2011 the South Buffalo Men's team helped to form a sister team, the South Buffalo Sinners, which I was lucky enough to be a founding member of.  I was appointed captain in our inaugural season, and have been playing with the Sinners ever since.  Although we are currently only a social club, our president does a great job of scheduling us against tough competition to truly challenge us and grow us. We travel quite a bit, being a young team, so I have been lucky enough to play teams from all over the northeast! 

Aside from playing, I also coach Hamburg High School women's rugby team, who in my two seasons as a coach made consecutive state championship appearances!  After my first year as a coach we lost 10 of our starting players who graduated, so needless to say everyone thought it would be a rebuilding year for us.  My second season as a coach started out a little rough, with a lot of inexperienced players, but the girls worked hard and were able to make it to state championships as the WNY representative for the second year in a row.  It is a true testament to a situation being what you make of it. 

Playing for the Stars means a lot to me because it is really the first opportunity I have had to play at a higher level of rugby and I look forward to taking full advantage of it.  Even after 7 years of playing I swear I still learn something new at every practice and in every game, and I can not wait to play with this group of girls and gain any knowledge or experience that I can from this opportunity. 
I am always looking for my next challenge and though some people may think I am crazy I am willing to try pretty much anything that gets thrown at me, which is how I ended up in love with rugby in the first place.  This is my first Vegas 7s (and Vegas in general!) experience and I could not imagine it any other way.  

A big thanks to everyone who has been and is making this possible for us!

Meet Katherine "Big Blue" Gorham

Editor's note: Big Blue was another very early roster invite from the original Facebook chain that brought the team together. Just under 4 weeks ago a few messages were exchanged - I myself didn't have a set team as neither  my Chicago Lions Women's 7s side nor the Beavers International 7s team were entering this year. I had tentative plans to play with Seattle, based on jumping in a match with them at last year's LVI and keeping in touch with Jess at the stadium (they had AMAZING fancy dress costumes) and during our club 7s season/national championships. 
Then John "Doc" Tinsley initiated a facebook message amongst ruggers he knew were looking for a team to play with in Vegas. Our nomad/whore team quickly together and both numbers and talent grew. More friends (and friends of friends) joined in and I reached out to my domestic and international rugby network to fill in roster spots for a 2nd side. I'm excited to meet Katherine in person as a fellow Chicago rugger (Despite living in Wisconsin I commute 2+ hours to play Division 1 Women's Club Rugby for both 15s and 7s; I just accepted a position yesterday to return to Chicago). 
The Chicago rugby community is a tight knit group and I'm hoping she gets more entrenched as her work schedule allows. This should be a Stars friendship that endures locally too. Plus the Chicago Sirens team is taking a team to Kenya for 7s next year! - Liz
In her words:
I will never forget the first time I witnessed rugby - I was 10 years old and watching a Harvard rugby match with my hero: Papa Joe (my grandpa!). I thought that when they had a scrum everyone was hugging one another, which is ironic because at the time my little 10 year old self thought, "Wow! Rugby must have a lot of camaraderie on the team and between opponents," and my 23 year old self still believes that today!!  
I have been the tomboy/athlete of my family for as long as I can remember, constantly traveling from one game to the next and playing on a variety of sports teams all at the same time. I have lost count of the number of traveling softball and basketball teams I participated in, and I was fully invested in varsity softball, basketball, and cross country in high school. Softball was my main expertise, and my whole family put me on the fast track to getting a scholarship for softball in college....but suddenly as I started college I had a mini life crisis and backed out of the team. Everyone was crushed - my family, my coaches, etc. that the dream we all had put so much time and effort into was suddenly gone. 
I had a lot of guilt from not pursuing collegiate softball because it was what everyone else wanted me to do, and it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make. But now, I couldn't be more grateful that I did.
That was the first time I took a leap of faith on my own and decided that I wanted to start gaining a wide variety of experiences from college rather than just zoning in on Division I softball. I signed up for rugby IMMEDIATELY, again on another leap of faith, and found my true love for life. I played rugby for the first time in a pair of converse sneakers, because my cleats hadn't come from my home in Boston yet, and at my first practice I received the name that I respond to more than the one I was given at birth: Big Blue. 
What instantly struck me the most about rugby was the infinite amount of support amongst teammates, and how support is the most dire of skills that a rugby team needs in order to succeed. Everyone is a leader and follower at the same time, and everyone is appreciated for exactly who they are. There's no cookie cutter mold for a rugby player - no matter your size or shape, every player brings very special, unique, and important skills to a team. I also think rugby is a prime example of karma, because you will get out of rugby exactly everything that you put into it. I have seen players with great natural skills crumble from poor effort and/or life decisions, and players with no natural skills succeed beyond imagination from their immense efforts and spirit. Respect is also a common theme amongst teammates, towards your coach, towards the referee of a match, and even towards your opponents. I love how rugby opponents pretty much beat the crap out of each other and then become comrades afterwards! What an amazing tradition that is so deeply honored! 
I have fully invested myself into becoming a player and "rugby philosopher" (I even made a "rugby philosophy" poster in college that I still have today!), constantly wanting to learn and expose myself to as much rugby as possible. When I wasn't playing rugby, I was watching it, studying it, or dreaming about it. I have an extensive amount of notes that I've scribbled down on paper towels or the back of a receipt from times where I've learned something new or unique at a practice or game. I even started a rugby blog with personal rugby updates, rugby resources, and general rugby discussions! 
 I was so lucky to be able to have experiences on New York State's U23 team, Buffalo Women's Rugby, and Boston Rugby...while also flinging myself around to random teams who needed another player. After graduating college in 2012, I moved here to Chicago to fulfill a year of service in AmeriCorps. I worked as a social worker in a group home for high school aged boys until my service term ended in June 2013. I still do this for a career today, working in the same group home with male youth primarily from the South Side that have experienced very severe mental health issues and trauma. I think rugby's emphasis of "rolling with the punches" and constantly getting up after getting knocked down has really helped me in my job and in my life.
My career's excruciating hours have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible at times, to play rugby on a consistent basis. I work from 2pm to sometimes midnight or later, and every day it kills me that Chicago has so many rugby opportunities right around me that are in my grasp yet not reachable right now. But I have made it a priority to not let rugby go and take full advantage of every opportunity I can get! I ran the Chicago Marathon last year and did a Tough Mudder race, all with the intentions of being ready to jump back into rugby at any second. I pop in and out of practices with the Chicago Sirens whenever I get the random chance; I feel guilty because I'm practically like Zorro - showing up and then vanishing for a while! 
I am eternally grateful for this opportunity to play with and witness some of the best competition from such a variety of places. Major shout out to Cara Thayer, a fellow alumni of Canisius Women's Rugby, who roped me into this loop! Out of sheer chance I asked her if she had any rugby games I could watch her play when I travelled to Buffalo for a weekend, and South Buffalo Women's Rugby happened to need some players for a tournament! From there Cara informed me about this team and the rest is history. She has kept my dreams of being a fully competitive rugger alive! 
I plan on this sporadic rugby playing to be extremely temporary, and the minute I am able to make another career move I want to be sure that I am able to play full time rugby! These opportunities to play with some of the best are crucial. I cannot wait to meet ruggers from all over the place and learn valuable lessons from everyone....not to mention that ruggers are my favorite people to hang around! You all inspire me and keep me going!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Did you have a STAR atop of your tree?

Thanks for bearing with a bit of a holiday break. Merry Christmas to all our rugby family that celebrates, and a bonus Happy Boxing Day (Is that right? Or should it be Merry Boxing Day?) to our friends in Canada and the UK. If anyone can tell us what Boxing Day really is in the comments, we'd appreciate the info!

Also things are getting REAL! Our tournament entry is confirmed for both the Open and Elite brackets, all the hotel rooms are reserved, so now it's up to all our players to submit their 2nd payments so we can cover the invoices for kit and all the ground logisitics in Vegas. One month from now we're hoping the Elite team will be playing in the Sunday championship match inside of Sam Boyd Stadium and both sides will hit the strip to celebrate an amazing week of rugby!

Cheers to 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Stars Final USA 7s Roster Announced!

One month from today Stars Rugby 7s Open side will be taking the pitch in Las Vegas while the Elite side notches a second training in preparation for Friday opening matches. It's pretty perfect timing to announce that after nearly 3 weeks of player invites and adjustments spanning 3 continents our USA 7s roster is set!

The Stars boast some familiar names with XVs Rugby World Cup appearances, others with 7s caps and age-grade appearances; we round out the list with several developmental players with huge futures ahead:

Campbell, Cheyenne - Australia
Campbell, Sarah - Canada
Campbell, Saxon - Australia
Darwent, Kristen - USA
Dominguez, Cassandra -USA
Entwhistle, Elizabeth - USA
Filer, Rhiannon - USA
Galati, Sarah - Canada
Gemmell, Elizabeth - Australia
Gemmell, Krystle - Australia
Gorham, Katherine - USA
Horn, Cheryl - USA
Karsten, Kristen - USA
Knight, Phaidra - USA
Mallindine, Jessica - USA
Monroy, Codi - USA
Omoghan, Fedelia - Canada
Pratt, Jinnie - USA
Rosser, Tanya - New Zealand/Ireland
Semiglia, Kimberly - USA
Stanley, Kathleen - USA
Swift, Christina - USA
Toussaint, Tamisha - Canada
Thayer, Cara - USA
VanDerkrake, Jamie - USA

Coach: Eyal Hakim

Kit Preview

I've always wanted red rugby shorts and that was the motivation behind selecting our kit. Nothing fancy just making us look good on the pitch with clear, simple branding. Thanks again to LegendBorne for setting this up so quickly! We'll also have matching red long sleeved tech tees and hooded sweatshirts with the same white star pattern as the jerseys. Due to popular demand, fan t-shirts will also be for sale in Vegas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Meet Fedelia Omoghan!

I desperately want to make some sort of FedEx pun here as she always delivers....

I've know Feddy for a year now as we were Beaver 7s teammates for last year's Las Vegas Invitational. She's an amazing rugby talent currently playing varsity rugby in an athletic scholarship at York University in Toronto. Fedelia has a bright future ahead of her - Team Canada took notice as she was selected for the U-20 Nations Cup this summer. Canada won the tournament and she kept the bling coming as her club side, the Toronto Saracens, took the Ontario Provincial Championship! Feddy also has the best moves I've ever seen so if you spot her in Vegas feel free to take you chances in a danceoff. She can twerk like no other.

In her own words, here's Fedelia's rugby bio and what playing representational rugby means to her:

"The first time I picked up a rugby ball was in 2007, my second year of high school. Since then I haven't dropped one (metaphorically). Rugby has been a huge part of my life for 7 years now. From high school rugby I began playing club rugby with my domestic club team, the Toronto Saracens and that started me up with Provincial rugby.

I have had many opportunities to play alongside and against some of the best players in the world. In the summer of 2013 I was selected to play for the Canadian National U20 rugby team for Nations Cup. Our team won the tournament, but the best part was playing against high level competition from around the world.

 This is why I have chosen to play with The Stars. Playing on an international club team with players from all over the world has helped me to become a better player.  I learn new playing styles and philosophies of rugby playing alongside new people. It also provides me with an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. I'm looking forward to the Las Vegas 7s tournament where we will be able to hit the field together for the first time and hopefully win games."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Day in the Life

Today was another in a string of whirlwind days for Stars 7s; we may soon have to change our name to the Supernovas given how the size and scope of this team has grown! With a global roster of players from Australia, Ireland, and across many timezones of Canada and the US it has a round-the-clock barrage of emails/texts/facebook messaging to coordinate and organize the team and learn more about our players to start formulating our lineups, game plans, and positions. The enthusiasm of all involved has kept me inspired and moving & shaking as fast as I can to bring it all together.

To give you a glimpse of what's been happening - at the moment I'm simultaneously both texting and facebook chatting with coach Eyal about lineups and strategy, have another chat with one of our Canadian players, Tamisha Touissant, and a 3rd chat with one of our Australians, Saxon Campbell. I'm on a Twitter Direct Message chain with JP and *just* closed talks with one of the best college coaches in the US, Dan Payne of Life University. Add in few emails and chats with sponsors and texts regarding kit with LegendBorne.... and this just in the course of the last hour. A normal day includes hundreds of interactions over the span of 16 hours adding in more sponsors, contact with the tournament directors, talking with opposing teams and coaches, more recruiting and follow-ups, logistics, and hundred of Tweets. Twitter has been an amazing tool of non-stop community building and rugby interactions and I can't say enough about the great outpouring support of rugby connections & media outlets that has grown in the last week. Rugby is a global game and it's no more evident the promotion/interaction/information shared by a large crew of rugby fanatics in social media spheres..

I planned to write more but after fitting in a quick hour at the gym (#workforit), spending some quality time with the most important 4 year old future rugger in the world (my son), and logging a few more planning hours, this blogger/rugger/mom is simply beat. Cheers to tomorrow and more Star sightings!

Some press about Jess

Jessica Mallindine was one of the first players to respond to the recruiting efforts for Stars 7s. The other day she shared this piece Wilma wrote about the rugby 7s team she founded this summer in Wilmington, North Carolina. As part of her recruiting efforts and with an eye to grow the game, Jessica set up a pre-season scrimmage and had 4-5 different teams bring sides to develop new players. She has since moved to New Orleans, Louisiana and is continuing her rugby adventures. She wants to add, "Why the article writer said Aussie sport I'll never know!". Her full player profile is coming soon.

Tough Enough

Cape Fear Women's Rugby Club seeks reboot

Often, when people think about rugby, they imagine tough guys in tight jerseys getting injured even more than football players. But local rugby player JESSICA MALLINDINE describes this Australian game as suitable for all athletes, of any fitness level or gender.

Mallindine first developed her love for the contact sport after a one-year stay in Australia nearly a decade ago. Now she’s spreading the word to other ladies in the Port City about her newest effort to play back home – the Cape Fear Women’s Rugby Club.

“There’s always a place for you somewhere. That’s what makes it a beautiful sport for anyone, especially women,” she says.

A women’s rugby team existed years ago in Wilmington, Mallindine says, but fell apart. Before starting the new group, Mallindine practiced with the men’s Cape Fear Rugby Club and competed with a women’s team based in Charlotte.

“One of the things I’m working on is getting enough women interested or just even knowing it’s an option to really try and start to establish a Cape Fear women’s side,” Mallindine says.
The Cape Fear Women’s Rugby Club is practicing and competing this summer with a team of women of all ages and professions. University of North Carolina Wilmington has a rugby club for female students, and many of the players and recent graduates joined in for the summer fun.

“It’s the only group I feel a 100 percent part of,” Mallindine says. “It’s really motivating.”
Currently, she says, the team has about nineteen rugby players or “ruggers” on the summer roster. They had their first competitive game at the Columbia, South Carolina TaTa’s Tournament (a breast cancer fundraising event) in June.

On July 6-7, they competed in the local Cape Fear Sevens Rugby Tournament. Mallindine hopes the summer’s momentum can carry the team into the fall.

“It’ll take some effort to be able to have a team once the summer team ends. We really need about twenty girls to be a solid team,” she says.

Mallindine explains the disadvantage of having a competitive team is that all matches are travel-style and the club is self-funded. “It’s a little expensive; a lot of that determines what tournaments to go to,” she says. “We would love sponsors. Bars and restaurants tend to be good sport sponsors. “Besides, rugby is kind of a drinking sport anyway,” Mallindine says with a laugh.

The women currently practice at the men’s field, Flytrap Downs off of Chestnut Street, and help pay for the upkeep of the area. Even if Mallindine’s team won’t continue into the fall, she hopes to have enough people just to come out for exercise and see what all this rugby business is about.

“I think it’s important for women to know about the sport, both to get something started and to know what is missing in this town, but also to have the option to do something new,” Mallindine says.

“It’s not always about being the toughest or the fittest, but about a good group of people just showing support.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

And Now, A Word For Our Sponsors


Stars Rugby 7s has only been in existence for two weeks (our origin story to come tomorrow) and already we've seen a wealth of support. There have been many people directly and indirectly bringing this all together behind the scenes through financial, administrative, recruiting and design roles that deserve a brief bit of praise:

First - A tip of the hate to "Doc" John Tinsley for creating the foundations of this side through his rugby networking - his rugby network surpasses my own sizable community! Similarly to Andy Ireland and Lee Bennett from Beaver Sevens Rugby who have organized a great pool of international players for two prior USA 7s tours; Andy and Lee's vision with overseas touring rugby has provided me great playing opportunities and I'm drawing on some Beaver friends to fill our rosters. Without these folks we wouldn't have the bare bones of a team or an idea to run with. Also to Eyal Hakim of Florida Atlantic University Women's Rugby for assisting with all the preparations, for coaching our side, for landing sponsors, and for bearing with my MANY texts/calls/chats every day. His tireless enthusiasm and willingness to dream big are much appreciated.

Note this is starting to sound rather Oscar speech-y. My apologies. I also lost this post to a computer crash when it was near complete so am quickly writing while wiping away tears of frustration.

Next - Three cheers to the design team at LegendBorne. Dave Bryant also deals with daily calls/texts/chats (though to be fair often intiates them) and has created a fantastic new line of rugby gear - with women's specific kit - and we'll be debuting his jerseys, shorts, hoodies and tech tees in Vegas. His quick turnaround on my abstractly described (and Microsoft Paint-ed) jersey ideas is impressive, as his attention to detail. his partners John Bryant and Chris Gillispie have patiently worked wonders and we're thrilled the results.

Finally - The $$$! Over the course of the last few days we've had several jersey sponsors donate to the team and will proudly wear their logos on our jerseys and shorts. Rugby Academy of America, Rugby Promotions Inc, Grubber, and The Irishmen have all contributed to our fundraising goals. We've had support from the rugby community as well - The Sexy Manatees (rugby friends from the amazing Stampede 7s tournament in Calgary) and Ryan, Kyle & Paul from the States have all donated through our team fundraising site; several players have individual fundraising pages to lower their individual travel costs which are progressing quite nicely.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the support of several rugby outlets and social media support/interest in our team including Rugby Magazine, This is American Rugby, YSC, Life Love Rugby, The Rugby Corner, Ruck BottomSerevi and the USA Sevens media team have been all sharing/posting/tweeting our tale. Please give them a follow/like/click and look for their own take on the Stars as we continue preparations for Vegas.

We have 2 more days to accept major sponsors (see this post for details) and will keep the team fundraising site open through USA 7s at the end of January . The massive community support thus far is overwhelming but that's how the heart of rugby. We'll carry this with us to honor you through our play and toast you when we raise the cup!


Meet Rhianon Filer

So. What to say about myself? I like things that sparkle, I hate pineapple and I have recently considered legally changing my name to Megatron. (just kidding on the last one....maybe)
I started playing rugby when I was 16 years old when the high school I attended (Shout out to City Honors!) and one other in the area created the first two high school programs in the area; then high school rugby rapidly started expanding. By my senior year, we had won the New York State Championship and were invited to the National Invitational Tournament which that year was in rainy, flooded Portland, Maine. Playing against much larger and long-established teams, as a starting second row I helped take my team to win third place in the plate division. That summer I was given the opportunity to play 7s and in the NY Red & Blue all-star games. 
This was the closest I have gotten to "high level" rugby. 
I have the pleasure of coaching an amazing group of high school girls, the West Seneca Saints, who made a great run at the New York State title last spring and sent several girls to the state All-Star team. In the summer,I got the great chance to coach and regionally develop the sport of high school 7s with a team of girls from all across the region, finishing as high school division champions at Cleveland Rock N Roll 7s and winning a second place finish at the Saranac Can-Am Tournament in front of over a thousand spectators - more people than I have played in front of at one time myself. I am also currently working under the YDO of Rugby NY in order to secure grants/funding and coordinate a program that will teach healthy life skills and implement Try On Rugby to underserved girls in the Buffalo area. 
 Cleveland Rock N Roll 7s HS Champions
With the lack of established D1 or WPL teams in the area, my playing has been reserved to my social team  The South Buffalo Sinners (look us up, you know you wanna) whom I absolutely love to death. I have been given the unique opportunity to be player/captain/coach and while often times overwhelming, I could not be more excited and honored, even playing on a still rather broken ankle with torn anterior ligaments this past fall in order to fill out the roster. Additionally, I am not a "typical" social side rugby player. My career is coordinating a fitness center. I am a certified personal trainer and will be taking my National Strength and Conditioning Association Certification for Strength and Conditioning Specialist in March. I go entire seasons with out drinking alcohol in order to perform at my best, which makes for interesting drink-up conversation and all-too-sober shenanigans. ("WHY ARENT YOU DRINKING?!.....Oh because you're crazy.") 
 Buffalo Rugby. All photos: Rhiannon Filer
Creating new and lasting friendships and contacts within the rugby world is my favorite thing to do and I have learned in the past as a spectator that Vegas 7s is the place to do it. The opportunity to play at the LVI Tournament with high level players is extremely unique to my recent experience. I have been pushing myself harder in training because I feel like I have something to prove. It is a completely invaluable experience to me and I can't thank everyone enough who is collaborating to give me (and all of us) this chance. I'll do my best to make you all proud!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Few Accolades for Our Players Across the Pond

Stars Rugby received some fantastic news today from our players in Ireland! Three cheers to Megan Williams for her recent tour to Portugal and subsequent contract with the Ireland 7s squad... Megz is a great rugby talent an amazing teammate on Beavers 7s tours. We'll miss her immensely this go-around but are thrilled for her selection; we hope to see you tearing up the pitch in Rio 2016!

Photo: Facebook

We also want to send a shout out to Tania Rosser of Leinster Women for their 21-6 defeat of Munster to win the Ireland Interprovincial Title! From the Leinster game recap: "Jenny Murphy continued to showcase her strength & Tania Rosser's skill at keeping the ball quick, really impacted on the final result."

For highlights of the match click here - watch #9 in blue!

Photo: Leinster Rugby Facebook

Well done!

Inspiration: LVI, Midwest Rugby 7s, and the Men's Elite Tournament

Rugby in the Midwest has been an exceptional experience due to the extremely competitive qualifier series. This past summer I had the chance to train and play with the many-times-over Midwest champions, the Chicago Lions. Their history of success includes a 2007 7s National Championship and 2012 Runner-Up finish. This is an organization with a wealth of talent and depth in coaching coaching with Jeremy Nash taking over for Serevi ODP coach Aaron Manheimer (who still attended and assisted at trainings); it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Also a special shout out to president Patrick OReilly who gave the women the chance to play and to Eagle Kate Daley for making it happen!

 Chicago Lions Men's and Women's Rock & Roll 7s Champions. 
Photo: Chicago Lions

Frankly I'm not a typical 7s player by any means. I'm neither fast nor swift-footed, I have zero "moves". I'm far more of an endurance athlete that can somewhat compensate with knowledge of the game and "getting" the game of 7s; the chance to learn more about the game and witness their detailed training/game strategy firsthand was, well, pretty sweet. Plus our women's side joined them men as champions at Milwaukee Lakefront 7s (beating then #1 NOVA in the championship game), repeated the sweep at Cleveland's Rock & Roll 7s, and earned a bid to the USA Rugby Nationals as well!

Chicago Lions Men's and Women's Rock & Roll 7s Champions. 
Photo: Lakefront 7s

As a part of the Midwest circuit we play in a series of 5 tournaments in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Grand Rapids with iRB type scoring based on performances. The top 2 men's teams advance to Nationals and this year the top 3 women's sides earned berths. Over the course of these weeks (and what's going on 12 years of involvement as a player and coach), we get to see the same teams and familiar faces several times. I've loved seeing players develop, watching opposing coaches (notably Paul Holmes with 1823 and the entire Youngbloodz organization in Minneapolis), picking peoples' minds, and participating such high level competition week in and week out. At one point some  7 men's sides were ranked in Rugby Magazine's top 25 nationally with 3 of our MW Men's sides in the top 5. The women had 3 teams in the Top 12 as well. It should be noted that 3 years ago the women's qualifier bracket didn't even exist.

 Chicago Lions Women and Younbloodz Women at Minneapolis 7s. 
A great rivalry the past 2 summers. Photo: Max Rugby

Both the Chicago Lions and 1823 sides that advanced to the Men's National Championships will be playing in the Elite Bracket in Las Vegas. Other teams will feature Midwest players like Tiger Rugby, the Collegiate All Americans, Serevi Selects, Atlantis and more. It's fantastic to see so many opportunities for the men to shine.... their growing opportunities helped inspire the Stars 7s side. The women's opportunities for 7s haven't quite reached such a point and rumor has it the neither the USA Women's 7s team nor the Stars and Stripes developmental side will play in Vegas. Atlantis is sending a team for the Elite after a successful Tobago 7s assembly and the Howlers Canadian side, will be in the Open bracket. The Midwest U-23s are keeping the select side tradition alive in the Open bracket as well. We can only hope the women's competition grows in coming years.

 High Flying High Fives at 7s Nationals
Photo: Amy Lebre

Oh - and the article that inspired this post? Thanks to Rugby Magazine for a great forecast for the Elite men's side of the tournament where Alex Goff writes, "Currently the opportunities to play tough competition are few and far between, with the Serevi RugbyTown 7s one chance in the summer. But not other venue offers the combination of international competition (the LVI Men's Elite 7s also will include national teams or development national teams from Belgium, Mexico, Peri, Canada, Cayman Islands, and pro teams from Europe, as well). As many as 100 young American 7s players will get exposure to international and professional competition. Nothing anyone else does rivals that".... read more here!

Searching for Sponsors: Deadline is Friday!

This week has been a flurry of activity as this Stars team was hatched just 10 days ago (story to come!) and all the planning and funding is taking shape.

Coordinating your own teammates based in one city is hard enough, as any match secretary or travel coordinator knows. Coordinating 20+ players/coaches/med staff including friends-of-friends-of friends you haven't met in person (hello, facebook!) is a whole 'nother beast. As everything comes to fruition we are nearing our kit design deadline and are seeking sponsors for jersey logo placement as well as donors to assist in more minor team expenses:

Stars Rugby 7s is bringing 2 rugby teams comprised of women's college and club players from around the US and around the . From January 22nd-27th we will be participating in the Las Vegas Invitational, part of the USA 7s tournament which is a stop on the iRB series around the world. Most of our team has international experience but some players are newer collegiate all-stars on their way up who will have their first exposure to this level of play. While we seek to win while competing at the highest level, it is also important to continue the camaraderie and spirit of the game that make rugby unique - to ensure the social traditions thrive and that we pass along the goodwill to the younger generation of players.

We are seeking donations for jersey/short sponsors to help defray the costs of such a trip. Our team is meeting in Las Vegas the Wednesday prior to tournament play in order to have a training session and scrimmage against the Howlers Canadian touring side. The Open players will have their tournament on Thursday/Friday while the Elite team plays Friday/Saturday/Sunday. Should we reach the championship game, the Elite side would play Sunday inside Sam Boyd Stadium between some of the men's international matches. This is our goal; advancing in our pool is a realistic outcome.
Our estimated expenses are $500 per players plus their own flights. This includes the tournament entry fees, 5 hotel nights, ground transportation, game day provisions, access to a trainer/chiropractor/medical supplies, ice baths, and our team jerseys/shorts/hooded sweatshirts/long sleeve tech tees. It also covers our entry into the men's tournament; any sponsors will help some of us surprise the college girls with tickets as most don't have the budget for that added expense. Plus a team dinner or two prior to our games wouldn't hurt!
Any support is appreciated and we'll place logos on jerseys and shorts starting at $200. We've had 2 spots taken so far with 4 more pending. The larger donations will receive more prominent placements. We will also include social media mentions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blog posts as a thank you to our donors.

We also have a donation website through where interested parties can donate smaller amounts to contribute to team expenses. Each little bit helps:

All About Liz

A few years ago I was coaching Northwestern University Men and one of my journalism major players (and a rather stellar #8) Dave Boucher wrote a piece about me for a final project. It was submitted to a few rugby publications and Sports Illustrated and you can view it here to get more of an idea of who (and why/how) I am.

Since that time I became a mom, resigned my post at Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, moved to Wisconsin, transitioned into the world of social media and marketing, and continued pursuing my dreams in the sport of rugby while juggling 15s and 7s as a player, coaching high school & collegiate sides, assisting at camps, and attending far too many conferences, AGMs and board meetings.

Still interested? In a nutshell my official rugby/coaching bio is as follows:

After a high school sports career playing volleyball, soccer, and on the boys football team, Liz Entwhistle attended Northwestern University from 1999-2003. There she began as a biomedical engineering major and later switched to mathematics. Sheplayed 4 years of rugby (and soccer) for the new women's program. During that time the team went from probationary status to back-to-back CARFU champions in 2001 and 2002, reaching the Midwest playoffs notching Sweet Sixteen wins. Liz also played for the CARFU U-23 Women's All-Star Team, CARFU Senior Women's All-Star Team, U-23 South ITT All-Star team and Chicago North Shore Summer 7s which won consecutive Midwest Championships.

Liz expanded her rugby career after college, playing Division 1 Women's Rugby with Chicago North Shore from 2003-2008 and  currently with Chicago Women's Rugby Club 15s and Chicago Lions Women's Club 7s. She continued playing for the CARFU U-23 and Senior All-Stars and has attended numerous developmental camps. She is also a member and USA Player Representative for the Toronto based Beavers International 7s Touring side comprised of players from the US, Canada, UK, Sweden. Czech Republic and New Zealand, the US/Canada/UK  Gypsies 15s Touring Side, as well as the Calgary based Sexy Mermaids 7s side. Liz has had the opportunities to travel as both a player and coach to nearly every US State and most Canadian Provinces and counts tours to England, Scotland, Wales, Tobago, and Argentina with several more to come.

Liz has continued her rugby education as a coach starting in fall of 2003 as an assistant with Northwestern's Men's team. She spent two years in that role and returned again in 2008 to lead the team to its first ever Top 25 National Ranking and a CARFU championship; NU also competed as one of only two purely collegiate sides on the Midwest Men's Qualifier 7s circuit with three players invited to the USA Rugby Collegiate All American 7s Camp. From 2004-2007 she served as head coach for New Trier High School Boy's Team and 7s program, working with former All-Americans and USA Eagles on her staff. Liz also coached with the Illinois U-17 and U-19 Boy's All-Star teams from 2004-2010, producing several High School All Americans. Since moving to Wisconsin has been active as a coach with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lady Panther Rugby Football Club while also contributing to the development of the Rugby Academy of America.

While not playing or coaching rugby, Liz works in marketing and social media. She lives in Milwaukee and is the proud mom to a future Rugby All-American.

What this lacks is all the amazingness I attribute to the sport of rugby... the stories of these teams, my coaching inspiration, the support I've received from the rugby community over the past 14 years, and how there is no way I'd be handling life as a rugby mama without that same community. Stay posted for more to come - the real nuts and bolts in rugby are through the friendships made.

Welcome to the Stars!

Hello blogosphere (ruggosphere?)!

There's so much pressure with this first post as all of us involved in this team care *so much* about the sport of rugby and about the camaraderie and spirit of the game. It's difficult to put this all into precise words with a clear message so I'll try to briefly touch on a few key points with much more to come.

(Let's not forget that I'm also organizing our inaugural tour to USA Sevens in Las Vegas, Nevada where we are fielding both an Open and Elite playing sides. This includes player invites, accommodations, transportation, kit design, sourcing sponsors, coaching plans, media work, coordinating with the tournament director, finding practice fields and lining up scrimmages/training sessions, working with medical teams and more to provide the best experience possible. It's herding cats but in the best possible way! I'm fortunate to have the assistance of a great rugby network but more on that in a future post!)

Our mission is simple: To provide elite rugby 7s playing opportunities to develop women across the US and around the world.

Uniting as a touring team for a few tournaments a year will only further the development of this game and enhance the global rugby network.Having had the opportunity to travel to across the US/Canada and across  the pond/equator for rugby purposes, I cannot fathom not sharing and growing these experiences. The touring aspects of this sport are invaluable in the development of the game and in sharing rugby culture. Nothing compares to touring Twickenham Stadium, scoring tries on foreign soil, and trading jerseys with your opposition after the match. The gentlemanly social traditions of this sport are a vital part of rugby culture.

As a player I am closer to the retirement part of my career than the rookie stages. I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my playing and coaching career in that Chicago has a wealth of rugby experience. I was able to train where nearly every coach I've played for had USA Rugby National Team credentials and my teammates boast numerous Eagles caps. The drive and experience in the environment I was introduced to the game is rarely equalled in other US cities and in my travels as player and coach, and having attended many AGMs, served on numerous boards, and in coaching the youth/college game, it's clear that there are "rugby deserts" that exist. To be clear - that's not to say that there aren't qualified coaches with every program; it's more that most programs are driven by the funding and geographic constrictions that exist. The differences/abilities/opportunities in youth/club/college rugby in the Midwest vary greatly from those in the South, in the Northeast, and the West. Varsity programs operate on different levels from those schools that have club status and each sports/rec department is different. So if we can give high level opportunities to amazing athletes that otherwise don't see this level of competition, especially with the decimation of LAU and ITT playing opportunities, then that is a service we'll pride ourselves on providing.

I'm thoroughly excited for this team to come together and perform together. While we (myself and our main coach who's been a huge asset and I'll feature in another post) expect high performance wins on the field, we're genuinely more thrilled to bridge the gaps between collegiate D2 women to USA Eagles and Irish professional women that are part of our player pool. We can give these young guns a look at the old guard, the chance to pick their brains and test their skills, to light a fire for future Eagles (and other countries emerging stars as we have some Canada U-20/provincial all-stars in our ranks). Rookie or veteran, we'll all develop together and come back from Vegas with great tour stories to boot!

On that note, we're still seeking sponsors to help fund our trip.... stay tuned for a detailed post on sponsors and please visit our donation page to contribute to the Stars.