NEW YORK, NY– While the start of a new year brings much to look forward to, it’s also a good time to look back a bit. So, before we roll out our Class of 2015 later this week, let’s breakdown our USA Rugby Class of 2014, review the year they had and see if our predictions were correct.
Women’s 15s Player of the Year – Hannah Stolba: Hannah had a mixed 2015. She won her club, Glendale, a penalty try and accounted for 10 points from the boot in the winning the 2015 Women’s Premier League. That made Stolba and Glendale back to back champions. However, she did not make the USA team for the Women’s rugby Super Series (3 game series against Canada, England and New Zealand). Hopefully this oversight is addressed in 2016 for her.
Men’s 15s Domestic Player of the Year – AJ MacGinty: From his first start with the Eagles it was clear the he was the fly-half the USA had been waiting for. AJ quickly went on to have a solid Pacific Nations tournament, and was first choice for the USA at Rugby World Cup 2015. His play was so impressive, he landed a contract with Irish Province, Connacht, of the Guinness Pro 12. He has played a bit off the bench and has 3 starts to date, include the win at Munster snapping a 26 year drought.
Men’s 15s Overseas Player of the Year -Tom Bliss: The dream of a Bliss and MacGinty halfback combo is still alive. Bliss graduated from the Aviva Premiership side Wasps academy and signed a senior club contract. In an attempt to get Bliss more meaningful minutes Bliss was dual-registered with Wasps and Ealing Trailfinders, recently promoted into the Greene King IPA Championship (the division below the Premiership). He is helping Ealing stay out of the relegation zone and has impressed with some of his performances. Bliss is playing with both sides and he has made it clear he wants to represent the USA. Don’t be surprise if he gets his first senior cap later this year.
Women’s Sevens Player of the Year – Jessica Javelet: Like a shooting star that burned too bright too fast, Javelet has left the 7s program. It appears that the struggle of trying to play rugby and work was too much for her. In a rebirth for Javalet, she came back to the team and played on the Dubai leg of the Sevens Series, recently. We will wait to see if she can recapture her previous form.
Men’s Sevens Player of the Year – Perry Baker: Baker was a key part of the USA team that finished 6th in the IRB Sevens Series and won the London 7s. He scored the second highest number of tries for the USA, only beaten by the incomparable Carlin Isles. Baker finished 10th overall in the Series in tries scored, with Isles 4th. The pair are known as the Chuckle Brothers because there are always together and always having a laugh. Baker has gone from strength to strength and seems poised for an even bigger 2016.
Women’s Young Player of the Year – Ally Day: It was tough year for the Norwich University senior. The program was in a new, much more difficult conference (National Collegiate Varsity Women’s Rugby Association) and with the attrition of graduation, the team struggled. As the team struggled so did Day to an extent. With less threats on the pitch, she became somewhat easier to neutralize. However she did manage a solid season and help the team make the conference semi-finals before bowing out.
Men’s Young Player of the Year – Christian Ostberg: The 6’6″ and growing lock/8man signed a two year contract with French Rugby Pro D2 team, Stade Aurillacois (Aurillac). Ostberg started the year with Algher in Italy’s Serie B (two levels under the Pro12 sides). He then moved on to Chinnor RFC in the English RFU’s National League 2 South ( three down from the Premiership) for increase action at lock and assisted in Chinnor’s 6th place finish in a 16-team league. Following that stint, he was impressive enough to get a contract with Aurillac. The two-year contract contains a stipulations that remuneration may be increased based-on performance metrics reached and endorsements obtained.
Women’s Comeback Player of the Year – Jillion Potter: We added this award for only 2015. Jillion beat a broken back to have a successful career as an Eagle and now you can add to the list of vanquished, cancer . Potter managed to defeat cancer and then be chosen for the USA Rugby Olympic Training Center select group of rugby players. She captained the team that went to Dubai and is expected to captain them for the rest of the 2016 season. She was selected as one of 102 USA Olympic athletes that people should get to know ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics by the USOC. A very good yearin deed.
Men’s Comeback Player of the Year – Adam Siddall: Siddall battled concussions and post-concussion trauma for huge chunks of 2014. It was hoped that he was going to be fully fit in 2015. Unfortunately for Adam and USA Rugby, he suffered another concussion. With the effects of concussions ever present in sport now, Adam decided to take a break from rugby with an eye towards retirement unfortunately.
Women’s College Program of the Year – Quinnipiac University – Quinnipiac like Norwich left Division 1 ACRA (American College Rugby Association) to join the National Collegiate Varsity Women’s Rugby Association. Led by head coach Becky Carlson, they managed to usurp Norwich as one of the conference’s powerhouses. The also went on to defeat Army, 24-19 to clinch the inaugural varsity national championship. The Program seems set to move from strength to strength but in such a tough conference, there will be little room for error.
Men’s College Program of the Year – Arizona State: Arizona State had a solid 2015. They are slowly moving up the rankings. They had victories over UCLA and arch-rivals Arizona, finished 3rd in the PAC Conference behind Cal and Arizona. They lost in the Plate final of the USA Rugby College 7s Championships to finish 6th. They completed their first season of the Varsity Cup and are getting ready for their second. It will be important that they perform well and they likely will, since they have an incoming Freshman class of 40 players for the rugby team.
Women’s Senior Club of the Year – DC Furies: The Furies experienced another poor season in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) . It was believed they were going to improve and avoid their perennial position of finishing 7th or 8th. However, it seems as other teams improved, they sadly did not. They seem to be looking to add to their coaching staff and build on things. It is possible to turn around quickly. The New York Rugby Club went from 8th to 4th from 2014 to 2015, so anything can happen.
Men’s Senior Club of the Year – Griffins Rugby: This team just gets bigger and better, off the field. They have increased the number of sponsors they have by signing a 4 way sponsorship deal so they now have an “Official Real Estate, Mortgage, and Title Service Provider.” They still have Physmodo, a revolutionary sports science technology as a sponsor. The recently named former Welsh and British and Irish Lions prop Darren Morris, who was a coach with Russia as their new DoR (Director of Rugby). They have actually signed 4 players to professional contracts. That is right, not boot money, real contracts. Unfortunately for the club, despite all the structure off the field, they are still struggling in the Red River (Texas) conference, finishing a disappointing 4-8. With the back office leadership they have been receiving, it is only a matter of time before they turn it on, on the field.
Women’s Coach of the Year – Mel Denham: She may have be blessed to be taking over a solid program going varsity but still you can’t deny how fast the results came for Denham. In his first season at Central Washington University, she took the program to the championship game in both codes. They lost badly to perennial powerhouse Penn State in the College 15s championship game and came up short again against PSU in the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship final. However, rumor has it that they have reloaded and this year’s team is even better than last years. All other teams have been put on notice.
Men’s Coach of the Year – Nate Osborne: Osborne was the attack coach for the Men’s national team for 2015. Despite a winless Rugby World Cup 2015, The USA did have a decent Pacific Nations Cup and Osborne was part of the USA team that defeated Canada, a record 3 times consecutively (and counting). However, with the announcement of John Mitchell as the new USA Rugby Men’s coach, his future with the national team is under review. Osborne is also head coach for national D1 powerhouse, Metropolis Rugby in Minnesota. In that Capacity he got them to the second round of the Midwest division before they were knocked out in the Championship playoffs. They started the fall 2015 season in much better form and with Osborne full able to focus on the club side, they will much more dangerous.
College Coach of the Year – Justin Goonan: As the head coach for tiny Spring Hill College‘s varsity rugby program, Goonan has made strides. He is now responsible for not just a men’s program but a women’s program too. The Mens program finished the 2014/2015 season a disappointing 3-4, however as proof of what he is building the program is currently 4-1 in the 2015/2016 season. The program took on a very challenging pre-season schedule as Goonan tried to get the team ready for the upcoming campaign. Expect to see Spring Hill’s name pop up more and more. The main worry is whether Goonan will be snapped up by a larger program. .
ADMINISTRATORS OF THE YEAR –
National High Performance 15s Director: The departure of Billy Millard from this position left a huge hole in the USA Rugby team structure. However, the promotion of Alex Magleby from the High Performance 7s director to the HP director of both codes seems to have been a stroke of genius. Both programs seem to be more stable and the 7s program growing. What is more important is that the pathways to becoming and eagle seem to have opened up and there is some more clarity regarding the path.
Erik Geib: Geib was appointed USA Club Rugby Director. going into the end of 2014. The relationship between USA Rugby and the clubs within the organization had been fractured for a while and though it is not completely healed it is getting better under Geib’s wathc. Geib had a positive start to his tenure by helping negotiate peace between Pacific Rugby Premiership (PRP) & USAR. He then wrote a clear and concise Club Administrator certification curriculum, created & developed club accreditation concept which has been proposed to Congress but not yet approved to launch. Those may not sound flashy but to any one who understands organizational management and strutcure, those are tedious and grueling process that are incredibly important in creating and sustaining a well structured organization like a National sports organization.
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And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.