Photos: Natasha Lesnefsky (see more)
American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC) joins a short list of teams that have fielded two sides in the same USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship. NOVA and Berkeley have accomplished the feat in the past, and now the Jules McCoy-run program has secured both Red River seeds to nationals in New York City.
The two ARPTC teams are divided into advanced (Blue) and developmental (White) squads, and they’re led by coaches and former internationals Hannah Field (England) and Mere Baker (New Zealand). Three-year veteran and Blue co-captain Sophie Pyrz explained that both teams are playing elite rugby and intended to qualify for nationals from the get-go.
“We have never been able to field two teams at ARPTC, so it is an exciting and new experience to have numbers at practice,” Pyrz noted. “Our hardest competition has really been against ourselves. We play each other in almost every tournament. It is a good opportunity to have so many numbers that we can really challenge each other every day at practice.”
There’s diversity in this year’s group, with residents ranging from recent high school graduates to 30 years old. Pyrz, who is a rising senior at Penn State (double-majoring in kinesiology and psychology), is co-captaining the Blue team alongside experienced veterans Abby Vestal and Jess Wooden. Returners Hallie Taufoou is also back and continues to be an excellent playmaker, and Christina Swift, who has battled some injuries this summer, sets a great example for work ethic.
“Some new talent has really come out of the younger girls,” Pyrz added. “Jaynee Taufoou is relatively new to rugby but brings a lot of physicality and a great attitude to the team. Also, Jessica Laughlin just graduated high school and shows a lot of raw talent. She knows the game really well and transitioned into club-level very smoothly. She is a huge attacking threat but also puts other people into space. I am so excited to watch these two players progress as they get older.”
The developmental side is captained by Tina Aprahamian, Cyndi Campbell and Mandy Reehling.
“[They] show a lot of talent and heart when they play,” Pyrz praised ARPTC White’s co-captains. “Mandy is super aggressive and has a great work ethic. Cyndi and Tina really help run the game and have a high rugby IQ.”
ARPTC faced its best external competition in Cape Fear 7s’ Elite division and entered two mixed sides into the non-qualifier.
“It was a great opportunity to play against teams like Scion and the Berkeley All Blues so that our players could get exposed to the level of competition that we will face at nationals,” Pyrz reflected. “We learned a lot from that tournament, which was ultimately our intention in traveling to Wilmington.”
Since then the teams have been honing in on weaknesses, perfecting strengths, and pushing fitness levels.
“We have been running the Bronco throughout the summer and training for it. The last time we ran it, Jess Wooden and I got a sub 5-minute time and everyone dropped their times, some by more than a minute,” Pyrz lauded squad-wide improvements. “Our thought is that if our fitness is high, then working for 14 minutes is easy, and we can focus on our game plan and the technical side of play.”
ARPTC won the national title in 2015, the National Development Academy’s debut, and went 3-3 last year to finish sixth overall. As for Pyrz, 2018 will mark a third-straight appearance at the national championship, and the Doylestown, Pa., product hopes that her progress this summer aids a selection to Penn State’s leadership group in the 2018-19 season.
“I keep coming back because I feel like ARPTC offers a unique opportunity to train in a high-performance environment,” Pyrz explained. “There really aren’t many other academies that train three times per day every week. It is a really great environment to challenge yourself and see how far you can push yourself, but have fun at the same time.”
For more information on club 7s nationals, visit the very informative home page.