NEW YORK, NY – Yesterday, we gave you our 2013 USA Rugby Players To Watch as compiled by yours truly with the patience and help of RWU contributors Mike Holzman and Phaidra Knight, Bryan Ray of RaysRugby.com, Wendy Young of Your Scrumhalf Connection (ScrumhalfConnection.com), Curtis the Honorable of ThisIsAmericanRugby.com, and Molly Dengler, Assistant Coach USA Women’s U-17, Program Director NYRC U-19 & player for the perennial power NYRC Women. And, as with yesterday’s piece, we were also able to get some off-the-record input from members of the USA National team set-up.
Like last year, the coaches, clubs and administrators we are presenting were noted not for their 2012 record but for what we expect them to achieve in 2013. That said, here are our 2013 USA Rugby Coaches, Clubs & Administrators To Watch:
WOMEN: American International College is a deep and becoming one of the most complete programs in America. Only 3 college players made the recent Team USA team that toured Europe – and you guessed it – one was from AIC. Congrats to Jessica Davis. In Addition, their head coach, Mel Dunham, still plays for WPL side Beantown and she made the side as player. Considering that they offer scholarships, are within 2 hrs of NYC and Boston and essentially have varsity status, this program may may become the Davenport of Women’s College Rugby.
MEN: Lindenwood (MO.) University gets the nod but it was a tough call because of the University of Delaware’s growth in 7s . We also considered University of California-Santa Barbara. UCSB has moved into Divison 1-A and is bolstered by having Tim Lewis as coach. In the end we went with Lindenwood. The program has only been around for 2 years, so it’s rawer/newer than UCSB’s; we opted for the new kid on the block. Like AIC, They enjoy near varsity status and went 8-0 in Division 2 in 2011. The Lions are 5-1 in Division 1-AA, with their only blemish coming at the hands of… Davenport. They’ve done a great job recruiting, landing High School All-American Tama Paogofie-Buyten. It will not be long before they can get regular season games against the big boys and show their worth.
WOMEN: The Atlanta Harlequins of the WPL won despite our penchant for looking below the premier division. That said, Atlanta beat out Glendale, Glendale were 2nd in D1 in 2011, moved up and made it to the 2012 WPL Final… in their first year. But Jason Payne has been steadily building Atlanta for the past few seasons as they improved consistently to became one of the best D1 sides in the country and earned promotion to the WPL. And we don’t expect them to be the WPL side that gets relegated. In fact, don’t be surprised to see them in the playoffs.
MEN: The Sacramento Lions edged rapidly developing sides like San Diego Old Aztecs and Middlesex (MA) Barbarians. However, the Lions finished in the top 20 in 2012 after being eliminated in the playoffs by eventual national champion Belmont Shore, 42-10. They return with a veteran scrumhalf and flashy outside backs that have made Serevi Selects and USA 7s Developmental side Atlantis. They are not shy of playing a tough and physical game all-round, especially in the forwards. They also have enough class to beat teams out wide. Further, they have done some good community building and connected with Sacramento State University for a pipeline of great young talent. The most notable piece of the Lions’ puzzle this season, however, is the new head coach, Fijian legend Iferemie Tawake, who brings his48 caps for Fiji. If this talented group of players buys into Tawake’s system and game plan, they can be a force on the national stage.
WOMEN: Ric Suggitt gets the nod but Jason Payne of the Atlanta Harlequins has every right not to buy us a pint. He did everything to deserve this nod, especially since he coached the Club of the Year. Suggitt, meanwhile, has been the coach of the USA Womens 7s Team for 2 years. How many of you actually knew that? Not many, we guess – unless you’ve been following Phaidra Knight’s RWU. The problem is that up until this year the Women’s 7s Team played a random mesh of tournaments and competitions. Some occurred alongside stops on the Men’s 7s circuit, some didn’t. Now the Women’s 7s program has the Olympic target, contracted players and – most importantly – they have a RWC7s in 2013 and their own 7s circuit. Essentially, Suggitt is in a better position than any of his predecessors ever were. On top of being a smart, articulate coach, he is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet. We have faith the Team USA will build on their Bowl Championship in Dubai and have a massive year under his stewardship.
MEN: Evan Haigh of Old Pudget Sound Beach beat out former SA Springbok Andre Snyman of the Glendale Raptors. To be fair to Snyman, he worked as an assistant for Glendale in
the past but showed enough promise as a coach for Mark Bullock to step down. However, our decision is partly skewed by the success Haigh has achieved despite not being a former international. Haigh has made OPSB the best 15s side in the West and 2nd in the nation if you go by the US Superleague. Their ability to go on the road win big games and produce players pushing for eagle positions allows them to recruit better which makes it likely that in 2013, they will just move from strength to strength.
COLLEGE COACH: Eric Taber heads up another small-school-going-varsity with its rugby, Wheeling Jesuit (of W. Va.). The former team manager of the High School and College All-Americans is in a great position. Wheeling is pushing and recruiting hard, so he will be blessed with with good talent. But Taber is not just some lucky guy in a timely position. His experience as a player and a manager provided him with the knowledge on how to build a program and a winner. Wheeling already has lined-up matches with Big 10 side Ohio State and will likely dominate their conference to become a regional power. From there they will become a national powerhouse by the time this freshman class become seniors.
Paid Administrator: Last year we told you about the creation of Geographic Unions in place of Local and Territorial Unions. Now comes the next step; these Unions will be run by individuals paid to handle the paperwork. As of now, they will not be paid enough for full-time positions but that will be the case as things progress and more money comes into the game. Indeed, it is not unimaginable that these positions will become coveted full-time positions.
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That is it for me, for now until the next time and as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.