This past weekend, the first ever Girls’ High School All-American (HSAA) camp wrapped up at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo. The 50 girls invited to the camp were organized into two teams of 25, the Stars and the Stripes, playing each other at the end of the week in a final game. Following the inaugural camp’s conclusion, one of the appointed head coaches, Mollie McCarthy, reflects on the experience.
“This was the first time most of these girls had been to camp, first time a lot of these girls had been away from home for a week-long [event] that was that intensive,” she says. “I think the cool part of it was it wasn’t just a camp to have a camp; it wasn’t about the game, it wasn’t about competition, it was all about exposure.”
And that’s exactly what the camp was designed to do – expose the girls not only to the expectations and environment that come with a higher level of play, but also to expose them to the player development pathway.
“It was so they could see what it’s like at the higher level. When they leave the camp, they can either make the commitment that, yes, I want to go through that player pathway, or, you know, this might not be for me,” McCarthy says.
McCarthy and the other appointed coaches (there was one head coach and two assistants for each team) arrived at camp early to go over essentials with the USA Rugby staff: what kind of information they would focus on teaching the players, what players would need to be exposed to in order to understand that higher level, what kind of coaching would be best to implement this information, etc.
The week itself was rigorous. A typical day was packed with activity from breakfast at 7 a.m. to bed checks at 11:00 p.m., including twice-a-day meetings, two practice sessions (totaling about 3.5 hours), and lectures after dinner on important topics like nutrition and goal-setting.
Unlike the boys, the girls were not divided into two teams before their arrival at camp. This provided a challenge for the girls’ coaching staff, especially due to their limited information on the players, McCarthy says.
“That [breaking the girls up into teams] was the hardest task for us, because we didn’t know who they were, what positions they played, or really much of their background, and like I said, a lot of them came in having played a certain position in high school,” McCarthy explained. “[The challenge] was making sure that we had two teams that were even. It was challenging – so that’s why we weren’t able to break them into teams until around Thursday. But you know, I think it was really good that we kept them together the whole time, because at the end of the day we were there to coach them, and expose them to new things, and teach them.”
However, the success of the coaching staff in navigating this challenge shined through during the final match as the Stars and Stripes were evenly matched. The first half was dominated by the Stars who got on the board early scoring the first few tries. But the second half the Stripes picked up momentum, turning the tables on the Stars. Though the Stars regained some ground by the end of the second half, it was not quite enough, and the Stripes pulled away for the win.
Though McCarthy was the Stars’ head coach, she explains she was not too disappointed with the loss.
“As the head coach of the Stars, I really wanted us to win, but at the end of the day I had coached all those girls all week, so I was proud either way.”
What’s more, the level of play was superior.
“It was definitely the best high school game I’ve ever seen,” says McCarthy. “It was fast-paced, a lot of what we worked on – structure, offensively and defensively – the girls implemented. Both teams really looked like they had been playing together for a while. And that was really awesome to see from a coaching perspective.”
McCarthy says that the play was generally so good that she would be hard-pressed to say any one of the girls stood out way more than the others – there were no superstars, just lots of potential.
“There was a lot of potential, especially on game day, who were eager and just really stepped up and played their hardest.”
She did, however, mention her team’s MVP, hooker Katy Peoples from Colorado’s Summit High School.
“You could tell all week she was really working hard, trying to learn the structure and everything…but when she got on that field, she was a work-horse,” McCarthy praised. “Katy wasn’t the one scoring all of the tries, but her hard work was contagious, and that was the reason we were able to get it out to our backline to score.”
But the real superstars, McCarthy says, were behind the scenes.
“I would really like to thank the Coach Development Department at USA Rugby because they were there the entire week,” McCarthy said. “They really worked with us, helped us, but also really encouraged us and supported us. … The coaches that they picked to come out to camp were great choices. By the end of the week, I felt like I had been coaching with them forever.”
Looking to next year (and, she says, there will be a next year – “From the USA Rugby staff, it wasn’t if we do this again, it was when we do this again.”), McCarthy thinks they can only build the program to be even better. But on the whole, she revels in this year’s success, beaming about the experience.
“All around I was very impressed with the whole thing. All the staff felt we were very successful, because the goal of the camp was development and exposure. And we absolutely did that.”