The sixth National U-19 Girls Championship took place in Florida this past weekend, and it was another fruitful outing for USA U20 coach Bryn Chivers. The event serves as one of the best forums to scout the country’s up-and-coming talent, and the 2011 iteration was no different.
Then again, it was very different from years past in that the Pacific Coast and West didn’t send teams making for a six-team tournament. Their absence didn’t necessarily affect the level of competition overall but it did adjust who Chivers included on his USA developmental side.
“They are teething with problems between the development of SBROs, college conferences and the creation of geographic unions,” Chivers explained. “All of those things had to work out a little for both of those territories. It impacted what we were hoping would be a U-17 side, but we had to move back to a developmental side so we could absorb some of the U-19 players from the Pacific Coast and West who wanted to be at the event.”
It worked out as players who had aged out of the U-17 program came back to provide some structure that bound the brand new players on Chivers’ squad. It proved integral to the junior team, as Chivers doesn’t have a depth of recommendations for U-17 players this year.
Chivers commended the older players' work over the weekend but was more interested in his younger prospects. In the forwards, Kaylyn Specht from Ft. Collins made a nice leap from high school flyhalf to backrow. She’d never played flanker, but the big, mobile athlete was incredibly aggressive all weekend. It was an advantageous move for the U-17 squad and something Chivers experiments with frequently.
“When you look at players like Kaylyn, you realize that high school and college coaches don’t necessarily have the luxury of playing someone like her where they might be better suited,” Chivers explained. “All of our teams have players who are flankers for their club but are front rows for us, eightmen who are more influential on their home teams but really locks and props when they move up. There are true centers playing flyhalf on their teams, and they’re good at that level, but better suited at center at a higher level.”
One example that comes to mind is Amee Svatos. The Oregon State standout came to Chivers as a fullback but has become one of the best age grade flankers on Chivers’ team.
“She’s not fast enough for a fullback at our level,” Chivers said, “but she’s very passionate and strong in the breakdown, so she’s a better 7 than 15. It’s the nature of coaching at a higher level, age grade program."
In the backs, Chivers was particularly enamored with Bridget Amoako of Mounds View, Minn.
“She came to one to one of our open camps, was quiet, but we recognized something we really liked,” Chivers said of the wing. “She had a special try against MARFU. She got herself in a situation and had to backtrack on herself, then accelerated her way away from several players. She’s one of those you players you have to watch on video a couple times, because you’re amazed that she was able to do stuff like that.”
Young players in Chelsea Clark (Lakewood, Ohio) and Maggie Myles (West Carroll, Md.) also had impressive weekends and represented some exciting talent working their way up the pipeline.
Chivers handed over the coaching duties of his developmental team to the capable hands of Karl Barth (Summit High School, Colo.), Austin Hall (Norwich University, N.H.) and Garnett Towne (former Midwest and Minnesota Valkyries player), so he could peruse the sidelines for more talent, and he wasn’t disappointed.
Allison Hale of Indiana University had a breakout weekend at flanker for the Midwest, eventual champions that beat the Northeast 22-14 in the final.
“She had an exceptionally good weekend, was really aggressive and quick to chase down outside backs and make the tackles,” Chivers said. “There were several players on the Midwest who played well. They were a very consistent team and the caliber was solid 1 through 15. They played like a really good U-23 team. They’re big, fast and very disciplined. They had a good game plan and you could see everyone understood their roles. They were setting up plays and were very well coached.”
The Northeast’s Xanni Brown played well at flyhalf until she got hurt, then Norwich’s Emily Orr stepped in. “She was electric every time she touched the ball,” said of the DII player and he was impressed with her cutting runs through the middle of the field.
On SoCal, Sammy Pinson, older sister to Megan, made her presence known on a team that nearly beat the developmental side in a 15-11 loss. “She’s one of those players who plays to a standstill,” Chivers commended. “You really like those players who will just go flat out for as long as she can. She’s been to camps before but never made the squad. We’ve talked about a position change for her to really move up.”
Pinson was a highlight for a solid Griffins team. “Southern California came out and gave the U20s an amazing game,” Chivers said. “They outrucked and counterrucked the U20s. It’s exciting to see for their program. They got a bit of a battering in their second match, but won their game Sunday. It’s good to see a program in the bottom tier much higher than it was a couple of years ago.”
And for MARFU, Penn State scrumhalf Brie Barto caught Chivers’ eye again. She’s in her last year of eligibility and attended the junior Eagle tour to South Africa back in 2008. She had a good tournament and demonstrated her desire to get back into the program.
All of these players would fit well into the budding discussion of a High School All American program, but Chivers was particularly excited about the age level below that tier on display in Florida.
“The young players did some wonderful things – and they’re really young, like 13 or 14,” Chivers said. “Mckenzie Hawkins from Maryville [Tennessee] was only 12 when she played in the high school championships. She’s big and strong and was at camp when she was 14. She’s already so experienced at flyhalf. And SoCal prop Isabel Manu from Fullerton [California] broke down the sideline and nearly outrun everyone. The 13-year-old is built like a prop but runs like a center. It’s so exciting to see these younger players come out, and it says a lot about the development of quality in the game.”
Quality not quantity is what Chivers focuses on at these tournaments. He doesn’t come in thinking he needs to find players to fill holes in his current squad.
“You’re hoping you find quality, but if it’s not there, then it’s not there and you keep looking,” Chivers said. “Ultimately, you’re looking for players who can project upward and play for the Collegiate All Americans and ideally on the senior women’s side. You’re looking for athleticism and good decision-making, instead of trying to find three scrumhalves or five flankers.”
All in all, it was a great tournament that took place at the hands of the Ft. Lauderdale men and Ft. Miami women. Chivers felt that Saturday was the best day of girls’ rugby the tournament has ever seen, as girls’ 7s games interspersed with the all-star games for a full-fledged rugby jamboree.
“You have to appreciate a rugby club that recognizes that somebody has to step up and offer themselves for the development of rugby,” Chivers praised. “We really appreciated it.”
And it provided the perfect platform for Chivers to begin the invitation process to next year’s players’ camp. It’ll be interesting to see how young the pool with range considering how excited the age grade coach was about the well of talent.