A perennial Team USA Eagle, Phaidra Knight is one of the most recognized names in women’s rugby. Today, she chats with Team USA star Ellie Karvoski.
PK: Ellie, I am amped about this interview. Thanks for taking the time. And are you okay with me referring to you as “Jackalope” or “Maneater” throughout?
Ellie: I appreciate you taking the time and excited to be interviewed by the one and only Phaidra Knight. I prefer “Jackalope,” please!
PK: Now, you are almost officially a southerner now, residing in the great state of Arkansas but where did you grow up?
Ellie: I grew up in Norwalk, CT throughout high school. I then traveled to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL for college and made my way back to New York and the east coast. I have been in Arkansas for a number of years now, but I am trying my best to hold on to my northern accent as long as possible. As long as I don’t start saying ya’ll, I will be alright.
PK: Interesting. And do you have siblings?
Ellie: I have an older brother, Paul, who lives in CT and an older sister, Krista, who lives in Massachusetts, plus 3 nephews and 1 niece who I love to see when I can.
PK: Now, your parents were quite different than most. Wanna tell us their occupation before you were born?
Ellie: How did I know you would bring this up? Well, to keep it short, my mother was a nun and my father was a priest. This was before all of us came along of course! It definitely was interesting at times, especially when a lot of the neighborhood kids would try to have my Dad pray over their injured pets. The crazy part was that it worked most of the time!
PK: That is not an everyday response! No wonder you are so “immaculate” on the pitch!
Ellie: That must be it! I must have some pull somehow with this background.
PK: Okay Jackalope, when did you actually start playing rugby?
Ellie: I was ancient. I believe I was about 27, so a later start than most.
PK: And not too long after that, you debuted for the USA 15s Team?
Ellie: (tell us when and where you got your first cap) Yes, within about a half a year of playing 15s, I was selected to be on the 2002 World Cup Teamwhere I was able to capture my first international cap for 15s.
PK: When did you start playing 7s?
Ellie: I started playing 7s right around the same time that I started playing rugby with the New York Rugby Club. I called up Jessa Giordano and asked if I could come out for a practice and she said yes. After that one practice I fell in love with the sport. Emil Signes also gave me a shot and invited me to an Atlantis Tournament and to be part of the Hong Kong 7s. This was an amazing experience! I was fortunate to have incredible coaches early on in my career, like Mike Luke, Lance Connolly, and Emil Signes, plus all of my teammates, to help me learn the game quickly.
PK: Unlike 99.8 percent of the population, you were a World Class athlete in another sport. Can you tell us about that career (how it started, where you have been with it, etc) and why you crossover to rugby?
Ellie: I played field hockey at Northwestern University and was selected to the US National Squad my senior year. I play for a couple of years on the national team and also trained in Holland to gain some international experience since they have a very strong national side. While I was there, I saw some men’s rugby games and at that time I thought to myself that this would be a great sport to play. Once I was done with field hockey, I decided to pursue rugby and it all fell into place from there.
PK You have played in 3 World Cups (2- 15s, 1-7s), been recognized as the top player in your position in the world, and have assumed the nickname “Jackalope” because you are “fast as fast can be (you’ll never catch me).” Any thoughts of adding to that impressive resume with maybe a fourth World Cup?
Ellie: Many times I have thought about it, especially after I just read the book “Age is just a number” by Dana Torres, who made 4 Olympic comebacks in her swimming career! Overall, I feel as though I have accomplished a lot and put 100% of my focus on my athletic goals so it feels like the right move to start focusing on other passions I have in my career.
PK: Based on what you have seen and know of regarding USA Rugby’s current mission, our current national team pool, and a strong endorsement from the USOC, where do you predict both Women’s National Teams to be in the ranks in 5 years?
Ellie: I can strongly say that the US in general has the best athletes and competitors in the World. As long as we keep pace with other countries with a solid developmental rugby program in place, plus continuous effort by all of those involved to maintain sources of funding, I believe we have a good chance to be top competitors.
PK: Do you believe that women’s rugby will get more television exposure?
Ellie: I would hope so. I do believe with the Olympic Games coming up, this will help with television exposure.
PK: What is the biggest asset of USA Rugby?
Ellie: USA Rugby has developed a community of devoted and passionate people who work tiresomely for the common goal of growing the sport in the US and for the love of the game. This is what has helped move USA rugby in the right direction.
PK: And most importantly, where did you get the nickname “Maneater“?
Ellie: Once again, it was you who gave me this nickname along with Jackalope. Maneater means nothing unless you are singing it to me, Phaidra.
PK: Jackalope, it’s been a real blast chatting with you today. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule and I look forward to a video interview with you in the future!
Ellie: That sounds great. Thank you!