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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

USA South Panthers Prepare For Jamaica This Weekend



Weeks after their victory over Mexico in the Caribbean championship, the U.S.A. South Panthers will head to Kingston this Saturday to take on Jamaica. The Panthers have made 11 changes to their squad but retain their key halfback pairing of J.D. Price and Lucas Biastrocchi. Also returning are backs Amir Kahn and Ben Winiarczyk, both of whom played well against Mexico. According to U.S.A. South president Kevin Kitto players from Life and New Orleans had commitments for this weekend but even still the Panthers have chosen to go with a younger side. The South has been making a significant investment in college and high school programs over the past several years in order to foster more growth throughout the region.

Even though the team may have made a lot of changes, Kitto explained that each player has been involved with the team early on in the process. "At our tryouts we had 110 players show up and of those we identified 74 that we thought could be on the team. We asked those 74 players to make a commitment of $200. Because they made that commitment those players knew that if they didn't play against Mexico they would still have an opportunity to make the team if we continued to win. All but two of the players put up the $200."

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That continuity has allowed the Panthers to not only work with a core group of players, but has also ensured that all players are invested in the process. If a player was selected, no matter anywhere in the process, they knew that their hotel and food would be taken care of. The players still had to pay for their own airfare to Jamaica (they should be applauded for their sacrifice), but as Kitto explained, it's often cheaper to fly to the Caribbean from the South than to fly across the country.

Originally both Jamaica and the Panthers wanted to play the match in Montego Bay (it's cheaper to fly into) but the field was unavailable. Instead the match will be played in Kingston. (NOTE: Kitto relayed that some of the South players will still be flying in Montego Bay and the local club has offered to transport them to Kingston. Cool.)

As for play on the field, the Panthers are expecting a fast moving game. "The Jamaicans are very, very fast. You give them an inch and they take a mile," said Kitto. The team is also expecting a different team from the one they beat last season. “Last year we played Jamaica and beat them fairly handsomely," noted Kitto. "But the Jamaica team this year should be totally different than last year’s team. I believe there is no more than five players on last year’s team that will be on this year’s team. A lot of people don’t realize but in Jamaica there is a strong Rugby League competition. I don’t know if the Jamaican Rugby Union has recruited some of those players but that’s what I’m expecting.”

Having relatively new players on both teams should make for some wide open rugby. Jamaica is fast but if anyone has watched the U.S.A. South the last few years at national competitions, like the NASC 7's, knows that the South has blazers as well. The Panthers will have the advantage in size and if they can assert that early, it could be a very nice game for the team.

If the Panthers beat Jamaica they will play the Bahamas in the Bahamas in late March or early April.

For players on the team, playing well against Jamaica and advancing in the competition is a way to get noticed on a national scale. Kitto explains that playing against Caribbean teams is one of the best ways for these players to not only prove their abilities, but also represents a more level playing field. “When you look at the trend of rugby in American and where the hotbeds of rugby are, it’s going to be hard for players to come from DII and DIII clubs. Realistically if any players from the South are going to make it on the Eagles they are going to come from Life or Arkansas State. For a player at a smaller club, the only way to get noticed is to move to a bigger club. I knew that was happening eight, nine, ten years ago and I said we need to affiliate with the Caribbean union because they are very similar to a Boca Raton or a Renegades side. If we wanted to improve rugby in South that’s where we should be focusing. It’s also cheaper for us to the Caymans, the Bahamas, or Jamaica than it is to fly across the country. We have worked with U.S.A. Rugby to step in and represent the U.S. in Caribbean competitions.”

Overall, it's a great opportunity for a lesser developed region in the U.S. to get good matches and a great opportunity for players to excel. Good luck to the Panthers!

Starting Lineup: Ethan Winel (Chattanooga), Josh Wolverton (Little Rock), Jason Hinchman (Charlotte), David Meehan* (Boca Raton), Stephen Hickey* (Augusta), Tyler Bishop (Tallahassee), Derek Wolfe (Nashville), Brenden Smith (Birmingham), J.D. Price* (Renegades), Lucas Biastrocchi* (U. of Florida),  Jeff Brill (Tampa), Jesse Posuansky (Renegades), Amir Kahn* (U. of North Carolina), Ty Elkins (Charlotte), Ben Winiarczyk* (Auburn U.)

Bench: Eduardo Hererra (Boca Raton), Michael Dixon (Georgia Southern), Mark Fulmer (Little Rock), Jake Finger (Charlotte), Wayne Chermley (Knoxville), Brad Yandle (Birmingham), Michael Nel (U. of North Georgia)

Coaches/Administrators: David Conyers (Kennesaw State U.), Rene Daniel (Emory U.), Jody Hensley (Middle Tennessee State), Wes Darwin (South Alabama), Will Rogers (Middle Tennessee State), John Davenport (Boca Raton), Kevin Kitto (unattached)

2 comments:

  1. I know this is unrelated, but I noticed some Charlotte guys on the team which made me wonder what happened to Charlotte in division 1. Anyone know?

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    1. Charlotte dropped out of South D-1 this fall, after the competition started (third year in a row for that for the South D-1 league), and after the South D-2 competitions had been set, so Charlotte is competing only in D-3 this season (since they already had a side entered in the South D-3 competition).

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