Rom is an example of: high school rugby player > elite college team > WPL club.
USA Women’s National Team (WNT) Rob Cain named his 34-player roster for the November test series (see a photographic account of the players), and it’s clear that this tour is about blooding newcomers: 21 players are uncapped. Quite the task, with the top-two teams in the world and Ireland on the slate, but after a year-plus of idleness, there’s no time to waste.
It’s also clear that we’ve reached the generation that has started playing rugby in high school:
- Tiana A’au: Grant, Ore.
- Kaitlyn Broughton: Riverdale, Tenn.
- Gabby Cantorna: State College, Pa.
- Eti Haungatau: Sacramento Amazons, Calif.
- McKenzie Hawkins: Maryville, Tenn.
- Emily Henrich: Orchard Park, N.Y.
- Darian Lovelace: Naples, Fla.
- Az Nalbandian: not sure on the club team (Phillip Exeter doesn’t have one) but played for the MYRO all-stars
- Megan Rom – Kingston, N.Y.
- Frankie Sands – Essex, Vt.
- Mckenna Strong – Kent, Wash.
- Joyce Taufa – Kahuku, Hawaii
- Carly Waters – Downingtown, Pa.
To boot, all of these players then moved onto DI Elite or NIRA collegiate programs, the semi-exception being Haungatau, who deferred entrance to Lindenwood for a USA 7s residency. And those who have graduated college now feature on a WPL club. Same goes for the eight uncapped players who picked up the sport in college – all but two are competing in the WPL. Jennine Duncan, a crossover athlete, is with Seattle Saracens, a BC Premier team; and Nikki Kenyon, who played at USF and then suited up with DI Life West (which is now challenging for WPL inclusion) before taking a 7s contract.
All three of the aforementioned players (Haungatau, Kenyon, Duncan) are in Chula Vista right now as the USA 7s team readies for the start of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series on Oct. 20-21 in Glendale, Colo. Also in SoCal are the 7s residents who competed at the 15s World Cup: Emba, Heavirland, Gustaitis, Kelter, Rogers, Tapper, Thomas. USA No. 8 Jordan Gray was released for the 15s tour, though, as were residents Kelsi Stockert and Meya Bizer. Kate Zackary, also a 7s World Cup member, is captain and has been playing WPL with San Diego.
Bummed not to see Ilona Maher on the list, but the 7s World Cup breakout is in camp at Chula Vista. She’s the one player we’re really itching to see in a USA 15s jersey. It’s also been a year since the Quinnipiac grad has played 15s.
AS FOR THE CAPPED PLAYERS … just four didn’t feature at the 2017 15s World Cup; although Bizer was in the midst of a lengthy rehab and was unavailable for a repeat appearance. Annakaren Pedraza (Fullerton, Lindenwood) was also selected for the World Cup but pulled out during the summer, and saw fellow SoCal native Kayla Canett (Fallbrook, Penn State) have a go at scrumhalf in Ireland. Canett’s currently in USA 7s camp.
OVERALL … there are no new names here. Some we’ve followed since high school; others we’ve been watching in the WPL. There will always be “diamonds in the rough,” a crossover talent hiding on an NSCRO team, but we’re getting to a point where those who want to play for the national team know where to go to develop and get seen.