The USA Women's Eagles coaching staff has identified 44 athletes for its Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 player pool.
Head Coach Pete Steinberg has used the shortened "quadrennial" between the 2014 World Cup in France and this August's tournament in Ireland to build a squad that is both young and experienced, awarding more than a dozen new caps in that timeframe in just eight international test matches. The final World Cup squad of 27 players will be finalized following a two-match international test series this spring along with several domestic competitions.
"As a program over the past five or six years, we've really tried to push international competitions because we don't play enough," Steinberg said. "We don't have an international calendar that gives us five or six games a year, so we basically blooded a bunch of new caps in 2015 - players that now have seven or eight or nine test matches under their belts.
"We've realized, for us to be able to compete, we need to really improve our skills. Our focus isn't going to be as much about playing games as it is to put as many people as possible in a full-time training environment to enhance our skill development."
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Ten current Women's Eagles Sevens pool players training full-time at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center - including four Olympians and two reserves of Team USA's Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games team - have been included in the greater list, and will eventually be joined by others in southern California as the year progresses. Sevens Head Coach Richie Walker has also been named as backs coach for the World Cup team.
"The residency program is an integrated program; we have a couple of XVs training sessions each week and all of the sevens athletes participate in those," Steinberg said. "All of our identified pool players in San Diego train a few times a week there to prepare. Our goal is to create a virtual-like Training Center for those that aren't in the area until we can assemble."
Five capped Eagles with 2016 Women's Premier League Champions San Diego Surfers are among that group of local athletes, while a further 10 players that competed in the WPL last year have been named in the pool. Four collegiate student-athletes, two of which have been capped at the senior level in either XVs or sevens, and 13 domestic-based club or National Development Academy players earned consideration for the eighth World Cup with their commitment to the national teams and performances at the National All-Star Competitions.
While there are 10 uncapped players in the pool, there are 10 World Cup veterans, as well. U.S. captain in Paris in 2014, Kate Daley is one of seven returners from the team that finished sixth. Phaidra Knight is the most-capped Eagle in the pool with 34 international appearances, followed by fellow 2010 World Cup selections Stacey Bridges (27) and Kristin Zdanczewicz (31). Olympic captain Kelly Griffin has not yet been capped in XVs, but is the U.S.'s most experienced sevens player.
"We recognize the World Cup is a different experience," Steinberg said. "It's a month; the longest trip we ever take in a quadrennial. It's high-pressure, and experience is important. We have a young team, the sevens team is young, and this is an exciting time for USA Rugby.
"None of these players received invitations because of their experience, but because they demonstrated at the NASC to be one of the best players in their positions. However, it is nice to have some experience that can have a calm head when, all around them, things are going crazy."
Seventeen athletes will be younger than 26 years of age by the time the World Cup kicks off in Dublin, with an average age of 27 for the greater pool. Seven of those - and a total of 23 athletes - played in one or both of the Women's Rugby Super Series events in Alberta (2015) and Salt Lake City (2016), where the Eagles played teams ranked Nos. 1 through 4 in the world.
Sixteen members of the November Tour to France had played in the Super Series, showcasing the continuity through the short break between World Cups the Eagles have instituted. The NASC has also allowed for national team staff through the age-grade programs to the senior teams to test a high number of athletes in a high-pressure environment, ensuring performances more closely reflect expectations on the international stage.
"What I've been really happy about that's happened this cycle and that gives me most confidence is the fact our NASCs have allowed us to actually select the best players that have competed," Steinberg said. "I'm confident all of the players we've selected have demonstrated not only the ability, but the commitment to play at a high level."
Players currently recovering from injury may be added to the Women's Eagles Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 player pool if/when they become available. More information regarding the Eagles' 2017 competition calendar will be announced at a later date.
Baylee Annis--Seattle Saracens
Kathryn Augustyn--Berkeley All Blues
Catherine Benson--Life West
Sylvia Braaten--Twin Cities Amazons
Stacey Bridges--Twin Cities Amazons
Nicole Burr--Augusta Women's RFC
Kayla Canett--Pennsylvania State University
Ryan Carlyle--Women's Eagles Sevens
Sarah Chobot--Glendale Raptors
Kate Daley--New York Rugby Club
Cheta Emba--Women's Eagles Sevens
Joanne Fa'avesi--Women's Eagles Sevens
Tiffany Faaee--New York Rugby Club
Tess Feury--Pennsylvania State University
Megan Foster--Life West
Jordan Gray--Life West
Hunter Griendling--San Diego Surfers
Abby Gustaitis--Northern Virginia Rugby
Nicole Heavirland--Women's Eagles Sevens
Alev Kelter--Women's Eagles Sevens
Molly Kinsella--San Diego Surfers
Joanna Kitlinski--Glendale Raptors
Phaidra Knight--New York Rugby Club
Bulou Mataitoga--Women's Eagles Sevens
Samantha Pankey--San Diego Surfers
Sara Parsons--Northern Virginia Rugby
Annakaren Pedraza--Lindenwood University
Ashley Perry--American Rugby Pro Training Center
Christiane Pheil--Chicago North Shore
Naima Reddick--Seattle Saracens
Jamila Reinhardt--San Diego Surfers
Hope Rogers--San Diego Surfers
Kimber Rozier--Scion Sirens
Nicole Snyder--Bloomsburg University
Kristine Sommer--Seattle Saracens
Kelsi Stockert--Women's Eagles Sevens
Nicole Strasko--Women's Eagles Sevens
Naya Tapper--Women's Eagles Sevens
Kristen Thomas--Women's Eagles Sevens
Alycia Washington--New York Rugby Club
Jess Wooden--Aylesford Rugby Club
Kate Zackary--San Diego Surfers
Kristin Zdanczewicz--Minnesota Valkyries
USA Women's Eagles | Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 Coaching Staff
Pete Steinberg - Head Coach
Roshna Wunderlich - Manager
Richard Ashfield - Assistant Coach
Peter Baggetta - Associate Head Coach
Liz Kirk - Assistant Coach
Richie Walker - Assistant Coach