NEW YORK, NY – A few years back we saw an idea in a magazine that called out to us. Instead of selected players noted for their previous year’s achievements (2014, in this case), we chose them for what we expect them to achieve in the new year (2015). And while we started with just covering USA Rugby Men, we’ve expanded to include Women and Canada, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere. So, after reviewing our USA RUGBY Class of 2014 yesterday, today we name our 2015 USA Rugby Players To Watch… with help from RWU contributors , Nick “Bones” Attewell, Grant Cole of This Is Texas Rugby, Wendy Young of Your Scrumhalf Connection and Molly Dengler, former player for NYRC Women.
Hannah Stolba: Hannah from Montana (she seriously is from Montana) is our Women’s Player of the Year. After playing four years at Minnesota State University, Mankato on a basketball scholarship, Stolba transitioned to rugby. She has made it look easy as a fly-half/fullback by making the USA team and playing in the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 as well as winning the 2014 Women’s Premier League with her club Glendale. Oh by the way, she scored 11 points to help seal the victory. The reason she was picked for 2015 is that with the WRWC over, the women’s national team will be in transition and we can look forward to her leading the squad through this and emerging as team leader. Last year was only the tip of the iceberg for her importance to club and country.
AJ MacGinty: Congrats to Alan, aka AJ, our Men’s Domestic Player of the Year. Yes, this is the third consecutive year we have named a fly-half as our Domestic Player of the Year. It more underlines the lack of depth at that position than our ability to identify talent. MacGinty has been on the radar for USA Rugby coaches and fans for the last year and a half. The delay was because AJ is from Dublin, Ireland and his 3-year residency had to be complete before USA eligibility could be established. This month will mark three years. MacGinty has been the talisman for an all-conquering Life University men’s club that appears unstoppable. He seems to have the ability to play ball in hand, make smart decisions and kick well. Fans will watch with great interest as he takes the next step. Expect to see in on the Rugby World Cup 2015 roster.
Tom Bliss: Our Men’s Overseas Player choice was slightly difficult. Lock Greg Peterson presented a last-minute challenge to Tom Bliss. Bliss can be thought of as Chris Wyles. Like Wyles, Tom is American by birth but raised in England by English parents. If he has as an outstanding career as a professional and remains a faithful servant to USA Rugby like Wyles, then Team USA have found their scrumhalf for the next 10 years. Bliss captained the Junior All-Americans at the Junior World Cup in 2013 and currently plays for Wasps in the Aviva Premiership. He is still on an academy contract with Wasps but has seen game time in the Premiership,LV= Cup and the European Champion’s Cup and appears to be the 2nd/3rd choice scrumhalf on the roster. It would be a dream if him and MacGinty end up firing on all cylinders as a halfback duo.
Jessica Javelet: The Women’s Sevens Player of the Year has an interesting background. She played field hockey for four years in college and professionally in Germany. She also coached field hockey and has played full-contact women’s football and won two titles, no less. Javelet has been a resident of the Chula Vista Olympic Training complex since 2013 but in 2015 she will hit her stride. The program got rid of some veteran players and brought in a mix of crossovers athletes and some players that preformed well in the National 7s championships. This has changed Javelet’s role from a just a scorer/finisher and team member to someone expected to lead and mentor. There is no doubt she has the talent and athletic ability – but is she ready for the added responsibility of being a leader and go-to figure? That is what will be answered in 2015.
Perry Baker: It was tricky process choosing our Men’s Sevens Player of the Year. Like Class of 2013 PoY, Carlin Isles, Baker has already made people sit up and take notice after three tournaments in 2014. However, it looks like 2015 is when he will hit another gear. Baker’s speed has drawn comparisons to Isles but the speed and college football background are where the similarities end. Baker played professional Arena Football for a few years before making his way to rugby. Rather than just being thrown into the international arena, Baker honed his rugby skills with our friends at the Tiger Academy in Columbus, Ohio. It can be evidenced by his much more polished play in his first few games. Under Mike Friday‘s leadership of the 7s program, we can expect big things from Baker. Honorable mentions go to Martin Iosefo and Aladdin Schirmer, who came close in the running but we believe will have bigger 2016s as they spend a year in the system.
Ally Day: Our Women’s Young Player of the Year, is only in her Junior year of college. However she goes to one of the premier programs in the country in Norwich University. Nine seniors graduated from the Norwich program, including Rebecca Bernheim, who was recently accepted into the Army’s WCAP program, and there will be need for leadership and new upperclassmen to become the team’s leaders. Into that small void steps the sure-handed and nimble center, Day. She will look to lead the attack to another ACRA (American College Rugby Association) championship match.
Christian Ostberg: Our Men’s Young Player of the Year has taken an interesting path to winning the crown. There is no clear path to the USA national team but for most American born and raised players, you go from high school to a top college program. Otsberg has taken the path less traveled. He signed a fully-paid contract as a 20-year-old to play in Italian Serie B. The 6’6″ lock/8man is actually expected to continue growing and get close to the 6’10 height of his dad. Following this year’s World Cup there will be some openings at lock due to a change in coaching staff and the likely retirement of one or two players – though locks have long shelf lives, so who knows? It will be in the next year or two that Otsberg will be seen regularly in the USA jersey, especially if he continues to develop as a backrow option which his Italian club has been playing him, according to Cole.
Jillion Potter: The Comeback Player of the Year award was a special addition to our list for this year and only for the USA. The award for Women’s Comeback Player of the Year goes to Jillion. It may seem like a sentimental pick for Potter, but she is a 100% certified bad-ass rugger. She has beaten a broken back to have a successful career as an Eagle. The unfortunate challenge this time is cancer. She somehow played through it at the 2014 WRWC, which is just unbelievable. We expect her to make a full recovery and be back on the field for Glendale and the USA later this year.
Adam Siddall: Last year Adam was our Men’s Domestic Player of the Year. This year he is our Men’s Comeback Player of the Year. Siddall battled concussions and post-concussion trauma for huge chunks of 2014. No sooner does he recover from that, when he get hurt on the fall tour. With the rise of MacGinty at 10, it would seem that Siddall is out of a job. However, Siddall can play fly-half, inside center and fullback. His versatility, reliable boot and familiarity with the system will ensure he will likely make the RWC squad… as long as he is healthy. Expect him to play out of his skin in the first half of the year to earn a seat on the plane to England.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.