In less than 1,000 days, rugby will return to the Olympics at the 2016 Rio Games, setting the stage for America to defend its 1929 gold medal and as the country shows a renewed interest in the sport. With an eye on this and future Olympic games, USA Rugby in on a quest to find and train the nation’s most promising rugby players and lay a foundation for long term success on the international stage.
An important piece of that national development pathway, the USA Rugby Academy, came to Atlanta on February 14-16 via a High Performance Training Camp powered by Serevi Rugby. More than 50 young men and women from the Southeast (and beyond) traveled to Kennesaw State University just outside of Atlanta to attend the three day camp and attend the Atlanta 7s – the U.S. leg of the IRB's Women’s World Series – which was running alongside the camp. All camp attendees received tickets to watch the IRB event when they weren’t training.
This stop on the USA Rugby Academy’s series featured coaching from USA Women’s 7s Head Coach Ric Suggitt and USA 7s Men's and Women’s Technical Coach Richie Walker – two of the master technicians and motivators in the national team program. Rounding out the coaching squad was Serevi Rugby coach and USA Eagle Emilie Bydwell. Camp programming was geared towards fundamental skill development and improving athletes ability to manipulate defenders and work to preserve and exploit space.
"Atlanta showed us that there is some young, crossover talent with huge upside in this part of the country that we need to continue to develop," said Ric Suggitt. "The athletes made good headway during the course of the camp, but we challenged them to now use the skills and concepts we covered to continue to become more intelligent, creative and dynamic players."
As with all of the USAR/Serevi programs, all the coaches in Atlanta had their eyes open for potential national team talent with invitations to this summer’s Elite Residence Camps – also part of the USA Rugby Academy – in their back pocket.
Coaches identified a handful of athletes as high potential players who were invited to continue training with USA Rugby and Serevi Rugby at the Elite Residence Camps this summer including:
• 16-year-old Korbin Miller stood out with his "attitude, speed, athleticism and core fundamental skills."
• 17-year-old rugby newcomer AJ Malone utilized his camp leading speed, evasive skills and willingness to learn to stand out to the USAR coaches.
• 19-year-old Tracy Poch from Hawaii traveled further than anyone at the Atlanta camp and made the most of her trip as she "impressed with her strength and ability to read the game."
• Stephanie Brown rose above with "her tenacity, acceleration and work off the ball."
Local rugby programs took advantage of the opportunity to have players work with national team coaches, with several teams sending groups of players to the camp including the North Atlanta Rugby Club Norseman, the Charlotte Men's Rugby Club, South Independent Rugby Conference Women’s Rugby, and young women players from nearby Georgia Tech University.
USA Rugby Academy’s High Performance Training Camp series next travels to Boston on March 1st and 2nd, where US Men's 7s Head Coach Matt Hawkins will join the talent identification team for the first time in the series. Held at Harvard University, the weekend is sure to be chocked full of talent from around the rugby deep Northeast region.