Kayla Canett (center), seen here with the Atavus All-Stars in Las Vegas, didn’t miss a single tackle Saturday. /// Photo courtesy Atavus
Last weekend was incredibly busy from top to bottom. From Eagle tryouts, to national and state championships, to big name 7s tournaments, there were a lot of athletes in motion. But the most interesting fixture occurred in New Jersey, where the Atavus All-Stars took on the British Army.
Women’s Junior All American (WJAA) coach Wil Snape led the Atavus assembly with the help of assistant coaches Katie Dowty and James English. The camp is one of two events for the age group this year, the second being the Stars & Stripes beginning June 27 in Salt Lake City.
“The intention was to get as close to a Junior All American assembly as we could given the time of year,” Snape explained. “It’s quite hard to assemble a side with the CRCs the same weekend, high school graduation and college finals – lots of things happening. Our pool was limited in that sense.
“We didn’t want a totally young team,” the coach added. “The average age of the British Army was 28, and we knew that having some senior players would be essential to us.”
The roster ranged from 17-24 years old. Snape was pleased with how quickly the group coalesced in the high performance environment and bought into the style of game that is replicated at the national level. Meanwhile, a weighty test awaited at camp’s end, an opponent that operated like a professional outfit and boasted several capped internationals.
“Not at all,” Snape said to the presence of intimidation. “We set the expectation early. We had a camp theme: revolution, with the concept that we’re here to take it to the British Army. We’re here to play as well as we can and show what American rugby is all about. It’s integral to the American sports person to never feel inferior to anyone. They embraced that concept and enjoyed the challenge.”
Snape expected the team to be competitive against the physical British Army, but realistically, there was little surprise in the 41-5 outcome. Co-captain and prop Azniv Nalbandian, who was also named DI Elite championship MVP, scored the Americans’ try.
“Experience was the difference really. The British Army were incredibly street wise and knew how to play against our players and the referee,” Snape said. “They made their executions at key moments.
“The scoreline honestly doesn’t reflect the actual difference between the teams,” the coach continued. “The British Army scored from a driving lineout and three from their own 22 from turnover ball. Their level of execution and concentration was a little higher than ours. But there was parity in some areas.
“Our energy, enthusiasm and commitment matched them,” Snape expanded. “To say that we were better in any aspect would be disingenuous. I was impressed with how we stuck to the task and matched them physically at times. Our average age was 19 and to match them shows a lot of heart.”
The entire squad raised its level of play, and the high schoolers played beyond their years.
“We asked a lot of the younger players in such a physical game,” Snape said. “Taylor Makowski and Kayla Canett – they’ve never been in games like this before, and the way they stepped up was particularly impressive. You really learn about players in these types of games.
“The younger we can get them playing against higher-quality opposition, the better. You have to be careful the way you bring them in and the positions they play. Our youngest was 18, and we had one 17-year-old play for 20 minutes at the end. You manage their playing time based on what they can cope with. These players proved themselves.”
Snape will reappear in Utah at the end of the month, running the WJAA’s portion of the Stars & Stripes. All of the age-grade assemblies in late June are dubbed “Stars & Stripes,” a term that used to only refer to the Girls High School All American camps. The WJAA will be working alongside the Women’s Collegiate All Americans (WCAA), which will select a squad from the Stars & Stripes for a match during the Super Series. With the WJAA and WCAA working alongside each other, WCAA coach Sue Whitwell will be able to double her selection pool.
ATAVUS ALL-STARS v BRITISH ARMY
June 4 • New Brunswick, N.J.
1. Abby Vogel (Cal)
2. Andrea Villanova (New York RC)
3. Azniv Nalbandian (Penn State)
4. Ally Dykes (Little Rock)
5. Taylor Makowski (Northside Dragons, Colo.)
6. Sheila Decker (Norwich)
7. Gio Cruz (Lindenwood)
8. Kaylan Hunkin-Clark (AIC)
9. Kat Ramage (Dartmouth)
10. Kayla Canett (Fallbrook HS, Calif.)
11. Scout Cheeks (Penn State)
12. McKenzie Hawkins (Lindenwood)
13. Fumie Reyes (Scion)
14. Melanie Marotta (Marist College)
15. Nicole Benedetti (Brandywine)
16. Maya Learned (Harvard)
17. Bridget Kahele (AIC)
18. Gio Ferguson-Lewis (Play Rugby Academy)
19. Tatjana Toeldte (Dartmouth)
20. Ashlee Byrge (Davenport)
21. Amy Verdonik (Scranton)
22. Danielle Lee Ramsay (Dartmouth)