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Midwest U23 Programs Assemble for 8-Team Event

  • 19 May 2023
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Press Release – The 2023 Midwest Coaches Challenge Tournament convenes at the Gun Club Rugby Field in Milwaukee, Wis., this weekend. The event brings eight all-star teams from the regional for two days of 15s, and it’s a massive selection venue for the Midwest U23 Thunderbirds, which will compete at the U23 All-Star Championship on June 23-25 in Iowa.

RELATED: Midwest Ready for U23 All-Star Return (2022)

It was a huge, collaborative effort and desire to rebuild the Midwest U23 all-star tournaments. Many coaches that participated were products of their local U23 programs and had fond memories of the massive eight-team tournaments.

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Last year, coaches from Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa brought U23 teams to Iowa Falls, Iowa, for a 15s all-star tournament. In the eastern half of the Midwest region, Allegheny, Ohio, the Univ. Michigan and a mostly Notre Dame Indiana squad met in Fairfield, Ohio, for a late-April all-star tournament.

“I ended up having to referee a match on Saturday,” said Xane Gerasimo, who is the Wisconsin U23 head coach and a Midwest U23 Thunderbirds Assistant Coach. “There was some chaos, but I got to see athletes I would otherwise not have seen, and the excitement of having a pathway – state-based team, Midwest, USA – right there in front of them was clearly very meaningful for those athletes. It was exciting to be there, and I can’t thank those coaches enough for willing the tournament into existence!”

Those competitions allowed the Midwest U23 Thunderbird coaches to see an incredibly diverse group of athletes playing over the course of two weekends. Thunderbird coaches credited those tournaments with their ability to pull together a true all-star team from across the Midwest as they returned to competing in the National All-Star Championships. Finishing second out of eight teams, the Midwest had one of the most diverse rosters, with players forming together from more states and more teams than any other representative side. Seven players received invitations to play for the U20 and U23 national teams, many of them having not known about the pathway before playing with their state-based select side.

RELATED: 2023 Midwest U23 All-Star Rosters

This year, coaches from all eight states have been working together to make a single tournament happen. Hosted by the Wisconsin Rugby Football Union, teams will be playing in two tiers based mostly on last year’s standings from the two regional tournaments. Tier one will be populated by last year’s champions, Iowa and Allegheny, who will be joined by Western runners-up Wisconsin and a very strong side from Michigan. Tier two will be populated by Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and a team from Indiana that (due to low numbers) will be filled out by athletes from Wisconsin and Iowa.

 

“I am so excited for this tournament to be back up and running,” said Stephanie Snoeberger, Ohio Head Coach and Midwest U23 alum. “It provides the athletes with incredible opportunities to travel and develop their skills at a higher level. Last year was great to get back up and running after COVID, but this year with more exposure, the talent and skill these athletes have are unmatched. Can’t wait to watch them play!”

While the Midwest Rugby Union has no association with this tournament, coaches from the Midwest Thunderbirds will again be using this tournament as their main selection venue for the Midwest U23 program.

“It’s so important for players to participate in this tournament because it gives us [Midwest coaches] a chance to watch them play live,” Midwest U23 Thunderbirds Head Coach Meghan Flanigan said. “Not on a highlight reel or game film from a few months ago, but live in the action.”

The hope amongst this group of coaches, mostly led by women and many of them alumni of the programs they are now running, is to inspire the rest of the country to restore and recharge their state-based competitions.

“I was so thrilled to learn that a pathway opportunity was being built in the Midwest by Flan and Xane – some truly amazing women and grassroots supporters of women’s rugby,” said Jamie Frech, Michigan U23 Head Coach.

“Want to make something like this happen? Call your friends,” said Gerasimo. “This all started because Flan, Mikayla [Miller of Minnesota], Charli [Jacoby of Illinois] and I started talking … and willed this back into existence. We got push back from old boys, and got told, ‘No.’ We were told we didn’t have ‘the authority,’ and needed the okay from someone … but we just did it anyway. We built the tournament with players’ experience as the one and only goal, and when you keep the focus on the people who matter – things fall into line.”

MIDWEST U23 COACHES CHALLENGE

Gun Club Rugby Field, Milwaukee, WI 53211
Saturday, May 21

TIER 1 SEMIFINALS
9 a.m. Allegheny vs. Wisconsin
11 a.m. Iowa vs. Michigan

TIER 2 SEMIFINALS
1 p.m. Minnesota vs. Ohio
3 p.m. Illinois vs. Indiana

Sunday matches will be at the same time and based off Saturday’s results

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