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More on Hokkaido: Who’s Heading to Japan

  • 20 Sep 2018

Amanda Berta with Penn State in 2017 / Photo: KJ Feury

For the third time in 2018, the U.S. is sending a women’s 7s team to a tournament in Japan. Earlier in the year, the USA Falcons competed in its second-straight Okinawa 7s tournament, and the Eagles returned to Kitakyushu for the the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series stop. This trip to the Hokkaido 7s is a completely new fixture for the U.S.

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Five of the 12 players named are already capped internationals or Falcons veterans. Megan Foster is a 7s and 15s Eagle, and resident Neariah Persinger earned a tournament cap in Kitakyushu. The three WCAP players – Ashlee Byrge, Kasey McCravey and Dani McDonald – have represented the Falcons in Brisbane and/or Okinawa in 2018.

This roster also lends insight into the resident contracts, since there hasn’t been a public update since the Rugby World Cup Sevens. Two newcomers appear to be in the pool:

AMANDA BERTA started with soccer before switching to rugby, at Penn State. Before graduating in May 2017, the rangy wing helped the Nittany Lions to its 2017 DI Elite national championship team and was an important finisher on the 7s squad. Fellow alumni Meya Bizer and Hope Rogers are also in the San Diego region.

Nikki Kenyon with CCIG 7s / Photo: Max Haynes

Life West coaches have been singing NIKKI KENYON’s praise for the last couple of years, noting the scrumhalf’s transformation after years of hard work. Kenyon represented CCIG at the NDA 7s in June and was named to the Dream Team. She then took a spot at the pre-Rugby World Cup 7s camp and trained alongside those SF-bound Eagles. Now she’s got her own spot in Chula Vista as a resident.

The remaining five players are all known entities in the levels just below the Falcons. Four of the five were also selected to USA Rugby’s Club 7s National Championship Dream Team, and the fifth was part of the NDA 7s Dream Team:

Ally Gallagher with Scion / Photo: Colleen McCloskey

ALLY GALLAGHER picked up rugby at Eckerd College and took advantage of conference and regional all-star teams. She then aligned with the Scion Rugby Academy last summer after graduation and distinguished herself in size and speed, finishing out some crucial tries at the national club 7s championship. The Dream Team selection is now at Life University.

KRISTI KIRSHE is the newest to rugby but has used a natural athleticism to quickly develop into a devastating rugby player. Kirshe immediately drew attention when playing wing for Boston’s 15s team and was funneled into the Northeast Academy system. Kirshe was named to the NDA 7s Dream Team and then scored three tries against Scion at nationals, securing Boston a 19-17 win. Kirshe is power.

Kirshe with Northeast Academy / Photo: Max Haynes

And so is PAIGE STATHOPOULOS, a Boston and Wolfpack teammate to Kirshe. With Dee Nash, the trio formed one of the best-performing combinations at club 7s nationals. The Boston University grad is tall and strong, and gets the work done in the middle. Stathopoulous was one of 12 players named to the club 7s national championship Dream Team.

SHAMIRA ROBLES is one of our favorite young players. The New York native anchored AIC for years and then transitioned nicely to New York’s WPL team this season. Robles has the silkiest stride and can get to top speed quickly. She’s an excellent play-maker as well, often taking over the flyhalf position in 7s.

JADE MCGRATH is a Scion veteran and recent Boston College grad. Also a grinder, McGrath is another one of those strong, powerful players who can pull away into open space. McGrath, like Scion teammate Gallagher, was named to the club 7s national championship Dream Team, and is currently making a huge impact with the WPL D.C. Furies at flanker.

Additionally, the Falcons tour will give staff a unique international experience. By way of Ireland, Dave Clancy is the Chicago Lions Director of Rugby, a post he’s held since late 2016. Jeremy Nash has been the Chicago Lions women’s 7s head coach, and Clancy has run with the establishment of a women’s 15s team this fall. Josie Ziluca, an active San Diego player, serves as team manager. Ziluca is head coach for the Atlantis U18s and was one of three coaches involved with the Girls High School All-American 7s assembly in Lake Placid this past summer.


Amanda Berta – Penn State, USA 7s resident

Ashlee Byrge – WCAP, USA 7s resident

Megan Foster – San Diego Surfers

Ally Gallagher – Eckerd College, Scion, Life University

Nikki Kenyon – Life West, CCIG 7s, USA 7s resident

Kristi Kirshe – Boston, Northeast Academy

Kasey McCravey – WCAP, USA 7s resident

Dani McDonald – WCAP, USA 7s resident

Jade McGrath – Boston College, Scion, D.C. Furies

Neariah Persinger – USA 7s resident

Shamira Robles – AIC, Northeast Academy, New York

Paige Stathopoulos – Boston, Northeast Academy

For more information, read USA Rugby’s release.

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