In years past, the Women’s Elite 7s division was an opportunity for thousands of Las Vegas Invitational-goers to, essentially, watch the USA and Canada face off. With the North Americans saving their top sides for the Atlanta 7s, the competition is different, and interesting, this year.
There will certainly be familiar faces peppered throughout the eight-team field – several on the Maple Leafs, like Bianca Farella (pictured), Magali Harvey, Brittany Waters and Arielle Dubissette-Borrice; capped 7s and 15s Canadians Amanda Thornborough, Andrea Burk, Barbara Mervin, Julianne Zussman and Kayla Mack on Aptoella; Japan, especially if the Cherry Blossoms bring the same team traveling to Atlanta, where nine of 12 players from the Rugby World Cup Sevens will return to U.S. soil; and of course, Atlantis, which always showcases past, present and future Eagles.
One might also recognize some names on another roster, the Stars, a USA-based team playing in its first international tournament and pooling players from around the world. Two Australian sister duos – Cheyenne and Saxon Campbell, and Elizabeth and Krystie Gemmell – have joined the team after their original squad, the Redlands, dropped out. A capped 7s and 15s back, Cheyenne is one of the highest profile players in the tournament. Canada U20 player Fedelia Omoghan and Toronto Saracens teammate Kat Stanley represent the north-of-the-border influence, which permeates every LVI division.
But the Stars aren’t just about assembling international players for the sake of winning a title, although winning is definitely high on the list. The organization, which is the brainchild of Liz Entwhistle and coached by Eyal Hakim, focuses on educating the rugby-underserved at home.
“We are looking to expose players to a higher level of rugby 7s than they receive with their home clubs,” Entwhistle said of the Stars’ Elite and Open teams already in Las Vegas. “Several of our women play for D2 university sides in the South and West, which tend to be under-represented when it comes to reaching nationals or performing well at NASCs. We also have a lot of women's club D2 players who are capable of higher level play but have no outlets for such opportunities, whether it be due to geography, money, or a lack of coaching and player development in their region. The chances to go on rugby tours aren't as available for a lot of the country as compared to California, the Northeast, or the Midwest.”
So players like scholarship athlete Amanda Martin (Sebastian River, Fla., native and captain of Lindenwood University) and Eagle hopeful Christina Swift (Florida Atlantic University) are examples of those whom the Stars target.
It’ll be tough to form a cohesive team considering the experience gap and time together, but tomorrow the Stars will play another well known travel squad, Dog River Howlers, and attempt to figure each other out. The Elite side will play Atlantis, French Missfits (another Canadian all-star team) and Trinidad & Tobago during pool play. But Las Vegas is just the beginning for the Stars, and Entwhistle is already looking toward the Stampede 7s in Calgary, Central Coast 7s in Australia, and Tobago 7s as future fixtures.
Select games from the Women’s Elite division will be recorded and posted on RugbyMag.com. Stay tuned for details.