Friday, February 26, 2016

Stars Women: Las Vegas Invitational Roster Release

Jackie Finlan of The Breakdown provided a preview of the Stars Rugby 7s Las Vegas Invitational Women's teams. Her coverage of and dedication to the women's game is unparalleled in the USA and we strongly recommend following her online, on Facebook and on Twitter!

Stars Aiming for New Heights
February 25, 2016
Jackie Finlan
7s Eagle Dana Meschisi is one player upping the international experience of Stars' player pool. /// Photo: Ian Muir (Goff Rugby Report)

Stars Rugby 7s celebrates its second anniversary at the Las Vegas Invitational, and the women’s side of the program will mark the occasion with two teams in the elite division. Stars director Liz Entwhistle indicated that this year’s player pool is the most talented to date, and the selectees hail from Australia, Canada and the USA.

Homegrown leaders include 7s Eagle Dana Meschisi and capped 7s player Ida Bernstein, who has recently been working with USA Wrestling. Eagle pool player Frieda Fetu’u joins from Berkeley, while ARPTC vets Lizzy Bristow and Mickey Ghannam inject more high-level skill. The college contingent is led by Stars returner Ashlee Byrge, an All American who was named to the U20 player pool. Notre Dame College’s Emilia Ferrara played with the Stars at New York 7s, as did Emily Speyer, who will join the team at the Vancouver 7s Festival. The majority of players are Stars rookies, as detailed in the roster below.

“For a lot of the younger players, it’ll be their first big taste of international rugby, but they’re fully capable of playing a structured 7s game,” Entwhistle said.

Australia has once again come through with solid talent. 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup member Nita Maynard (Parramatta Two Blues) is on the hook, as is Erica Fowler (Queensland Reds), who plays for the Australian Universities team. Fiji’s Josephine Maejiirs, who is currently playing in Sydney, has returned from injury and looking to make her case for inclusion on her nation's 7s team. Both Maynard and Maejiirs played on the Sydney Rams team that beat the Stars in the Central Coast 7s’ Plate round.

“The Australia connections came courtesy of my friend, Nathan McMahon, who coaches the Australia Developmental 7s Women,” Entwhistle explained. “He’s set up some pathways for player and coach exchanges as Stars continues to grow.

“Going to all of these tournaments has allowed us to absorb players from teams we’ve played against,” the director added. “We played Rugby Quebec at New York 7s and Tobago, and now we have some of those players with us in Vancouver. Same with the Sydney Rams from Central Coast 7s. It’s one of those cool rugby culture things: We beat you, you beat us. We both travel a lot – let’s exchange!”

Embracing the sport’s culture is important to Entwhistle, but this year has seen an intensified focus on the program’s professional side. Stars has employed a player tracking system that aims to mimic the national team’s standards. Games are filmed, 45 different categories of play are coded, and athletes are educated on their performances.

“We’ve sent players to [academies], the ARPTC, National All Star Competitions, and we want to be able to provide data and more metrics for their evaluations,” Entwhistle said. “Instead of having profiles that are based on their peers back home, after Las Vegas, we’ll know how a certain player competes against national teams and whether they can project to the next level.

“You’re not just paying to be on rugby vacation,” Entwhistle added. “You’re working toward the All Americans, the academies, NASC, etc. We need this information so players can develop.”

Liam Hutchison is coaching the women’s first side, which is grouped in a North American pool with the Maple Leafs, Atlantis and the Northeast Academy. Marcus Hurley coaches the Stars’ second side, which is in Pool C with the USA, South Africa and Brazil. Erica Black will handle health and wellness

“There are seven national teams in the elite division, which is the biggest it’s ever been,” Entwhistle said. “It’s great to play teams we know [speaking to Stars 1’s lineup], but it would’ve been nice to play some other countries.”

After Vegas, the Stars head to the Vancouver 7s Festival (not to be confused with the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series stop), where Canadians Karina Stevenson and Ruby Kinsella will replace U20 center Missy Bass from Vegas. Eight additional players will play at both the LVI and Vancouver tournaments, and Brazil 7s international Manuela Abreu Santos will also join the team. The Stars will not compete at the Atlanta 7s Festival, as many players are committed to their home sides, but Entwhistle will be in attendance scouting. The rest of the year includes a repeat summer tour to Calgary, Labor Day Weekend trip to ORSU for a 15s match, potentially the Magnificent 7s, Australia in October (Byron Bay 7s as warm-up, then Central Coast 7s), New York 7s, Tobago 7s, and then a Hawaiian tour in December.
A busy year ahead, and it all starts in Vegas.

Dana Alimena -  fly/center/prop - Claremont Foxes, Claremont, USA
Missy Bass - center- University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Canada
Ida Bernstein - prop/center/wing - At Large, Colorado Springs, USA
*Lizzy Bristow - scrumhalf/flyhalf/hooker -  Chicago Lions/ARPTC, Chicago, USA
Tahlia Brody - prop/center - SUNY Geneseo, Geneseo, USA
*Ashlee Byrge - hooker/scrumhalf.wing - Davenport University, Grand Rapids, USA
Kelly Dean - center/scrumhalf - San Diego Surfers, San Diego, USA
*Emilia Ferrara - prop/center - Notre Dame College, Cleveland, USA
Frieda Fetu'u - prop - Berkeley All Blues, Berkeley, USA
Erica Fowler - flyhalf/center/prop - Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia
Autumn Garibay -center/prop - Wichita Valkyries, Wichita, USA
Mickey Ghannam - prop - ARPTC/Little Rock Stormers, Little Rock, USA
Jacque Harrell - wing - HARC, Houston, USA
Tee Kawaihoa-Marquez - prop - Lady Harlequins, Honolulu, USA
Gianna Khoudary - scrumhalf - Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, USA
Erica Legaspi - wing - Budd Bay Bandits, Olympia, USA
Josephine Maejiirs (Bavatu) - wing/prop - Sydney Rams, Sydney, Australia
Melanie Marotta - wing/center - NJ Blaze, Rockaway, USA
Nita Maynard - scrumhalf/wing - Sydney Rams, Sydney, Australia
Dana Meschisi - scrumhalf/prop/center - At Large, San Diego, USA
Madeline Midas - wing - Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, USA
Tina Tela - flyhalf/center - Utah Vipers, Salt Lake City, USA
*Sarah Thomas - prop - Wisconsin Women, Madison, USA
*Amy Verdonik - scrumhalf - University of Scranton/Northeast Academy, Scranton, USA
Angelina White - prop - Buffalo Women, Buffalo, USA
*Justine Wypych - wing - Wisconsin Women, Madison, USA

COACH: Liam Hutchinson, St Albert, Canada
COACH: Marcus Hurley, Indianapolis, USA
PHYSIO: Kemba Noel-London, Trinidad and Tobago
HEALTH & WELLNESS: Erica Black, Seattle, USA
DIRECTOR: Liz Entwhistle, Chicago, USA

* Played on previous Stars tours

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Meet The Team: Coach Marcus Hurley

I first met Coach Marcus Hurley in the summer of 2006 at the Midwest Boys U-19 All-Star Tournament (now RCT). We were patrolling the opposite sidelines as I coached the Illinois Tornados side and he the Midwest U-17 All Stars. The Tornados were victorious on the pitch that day capturing one of 4 consecutive Midwest Championships; both teams were successful in developing players for HSAA consideration. Many of these same athletes would go on to college scholarships at top programs including Life, Davenport, and Arkansas State with some later gaining recognition as Men's Collegiate All Americans.

Since then our paths have crossed several times - I coached Northwestern University Men while he coached at Indiana University. He continued building men's collegiate rugby in the Midwest and regenerated Big Ten Rugby with a pre-season XVs tournament that grew into hotly contested conference play and now a spring 7s championships. That IU team most recently won the fall XVs title and has featured at the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship notably making it into the Cup Quarterfinals last spring. He is still actively playing and coaching, running camps, coordinating youth rugby, and growing the sport with a new academy coming soon to Indianapolis - so lengthy philosophical chats have strengthened our relationship over the years.

Marcus was a natural choice to join our Stars Rugby 7s coaching staff when family commitments left Coach Joel Bonnaud unable travel for the Las Vegas Invitational. We will miss Joel this tour as his commitment to developing youth rugby and positive, player-focused coaching style has been an asset to our Women's Developmental sides. Yet, I have no hesitations as with Marcus we find a capable coach bringing a wealth of 7s knowledge, game analysis, and player development that matches our mission.

Marcus will lead the Women's 2nd side in the Elite bracket and has spent the last weeks studying the game film of our opposition as well as familiarizing himself players' pre-tour profiles and has been planning sessions with Women's 1st side Coach Liam Hutchinson. Marcus's professionalism and demeanor, his own commitment to growth as a coach and administrator, and history with the game benefit the program. With is academy growing back home this should be a beneficial exchange of coaching/ideas/best practices/players for more decades to come!

Here's more on Coach Marcus:

Marcus Hurley is a professional coach, administrator and general advocate for the sport that he loves, rugby. Marcus has dedicated much of his nearly 20 year coaching career to the growth and development of the youth and collegiate game in Indiana and throughout the Midwest for both men and women.  Marcus founded the Big Ten Universities Rugby Conference, served as head coach of Indiana University Men's Rugby team and has won several championships with Rugby Indiana All-Stars as head coach.  

When not on the sideline, Marcus is coaching his daughters Olivia and Kennedy who he hopes will one day will share his love the game and have the chance to make the same amazing memories and relationships that he has been blessed to make.  

Marcus is currently the Director of Rugby at the University of Indianapolis RFC, and is working with a New Zealand based rugby group toward the launch of his own development academy, LegendBorne Academy in Indiana.  He has long been a fan of the Stars Rugby program and the amazing work of Liz.  Marcus hopes to encourage those working to achieve their goals of competing at the highest levels as well as learn from the players and coaches joining the tour. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Meet The Team: Coach Nic Benson

Nic Benson joins the Stars Rugby 7s coaching staff as a result of our Stars Rugby XVs match vs the Capital Rugby Union 3 weeks ago. Stars Coach Toga Fanueli (Calgary '15, Las Vegas '16, Vancouver '16) also serves as the head coach of the Capital women's team; he strongly recommended that Nic join our staff.  In a bit of reversal of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" as the Capital centers were a dominant force in the match, it was an easy decision to invite Nic to the staff.

After an hour long phone call last week about our shared passion for the sport of rugby as well as the administrative/media/partnership/sponsorship aspects of running a side like Stars - Nic enrolled at San Diego State for their MBA program in Sports Management - Nic's offer was solodified. He is joining Stars Rugby 7s for the Las Vegas Invitational next week and tournaments beyond. Nic will be supporting all 4 of our Elite teams in Las Vegas and assisting the lead coaches with video analysis, player feedback, and game tactics as well as scouting opposition.

Here's more from Nic in his own words:

Nic has played and coached rugby for more than 20 years. After getting his start at the grade level in Kenya and the UK, he went on to play at Florida State University. He spent the last three years as head backs coach for the Washington Renegades and served as backs coach for the Capital Rugby Union Women's Select Side. Recently relocated to San Diego, Nic is an assistant coach with the Old Aztecs

Nic started coaching while he was recovering from an injury and enjoyed teaching the game and helping players develop so much that he never went back.  He is excited to get to know the Stars Family, help provide much needed opportunities for developing players in the US, and to learn from the elite and talented coaches on the Stars team.