Notre Dame flanker Tori Jones / Photo: Mike Schurr (email@example.com)
The USA Women’s Junior All-Americans (WJAAs) will play Canada’s and England’s U20 national teams next week in Nova Scotia. The team emerged from a June selection camp, which featured many familiar athletes and a handful of newer faces. University of Notre Dame rising sophomore Tori Jones is among the fresh faces heading on tour and is looking forward to the international competition.
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The 19-year-old picked up rugby in 2013 at Penn High School (Ind.), and Jones’ background in speed skating made for a powerful ballcarrier in the backline. During junior year, Jones noted that she was constantly praised for her game sense and continued to develop on Indiana all-star teams. She then met Notre Dame coach Ricardo “Chago” Ramirez, who remembers a humble, competitive athlete with a demeanor and attitude that reflected a team-oriented focus. He helped her get to a High School All-American camp in Florida.
“In my family, education always comes before sports so when looking for a college I first looked at the level of education then looked into the rugby programs,” recalled Jones, who graduated Penn HS in spring 2017. “It just happened that everything I was looking for was right in front of me. My decision was easy to make and the college I found was local and had an amazing rugby program.”
The enthusiasm was mutual, and when Jones arrived on campus for fall 2017, Ramirez did not hesitate in starting the freshman in the DI Big Ten.
“Tori has the player attitude coaches love. I can ask her to try anything and even if she is unsure she will give it a go,” Ramirez praised. “In high school she was in the backline and when she started with Notre Dame I told her she was moving to the forwards and she made the transition easily. Recently I asked her to train as a prop and she gave me the typical Tori answer: Oh man, O.K.”
Jones became an immediate contributor at strongside flanker, and the Irish advanced to the DI Fall College Championship against Davenport University. The Panthers won that match, and freshman Jones scored one of the three tries against the Grand Rapids team.
Photo: Mike Schurr (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“On the field she brings something special. She has size and strength of a forward and the vision of a back from her time as a back in high school. For us she is a back row player who is comfortable and capable of running with the centers. So she isn’t a forward or a back, she is just a rugby player,” Ramirez added.
And those attributes weren’t lost on age-grade selectors. Jones was invited to the June WJAA training camp at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. The assembly marked James English’s first outing as new head coach and served as a selection camp for the August series.
“The WJAA camp was nothing I had ever experienced before,” Jones confessed. “The girls that came to that camp knew rugby to such a high level that it made it easy to ask questions and talk strategy. All of them were nice and open about drills and plays that their teams back home do. And the staff not only took time to connect with the girls but found a way to involve us with each other by making small challenges that we were able to post on social media and have fun.”
Jones counted her blessings for that experience and then doubled her gratitude when she was selected to the Canada tour. She’ll be playing flanker and prop in the two games, and hopes these opportunities continue to present themselves.
“After games I ask all my players how the game went for them. … She would always tell me what she needs to work on. She never speaks about the great plays she may have had, nor does she put herself down,” Ramirez concluded. “To me, her answer indicates that she knows there is more out there and she is willing to work to get to that next level.”
“I hope to leave a strong impression not only at Notre Dame but also nationally through the work I put in and experience I share,” Jones talked goals and national team aspirations. “Rugby is something that has become a huge part of my life and I hope to stay in it as long as I can.”
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