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Nearly 100 Sign onto Midwest Thunderbirds Tour to NZ

  • 24 May 2024
Midwest HS Thunderbirds Rugby

The Midwest High School Thunderbirds is easily the longest-running and most successful regional all-star entity for U18 girls in the U.S. The “Baby Birds” have prioritized 15s, although the program has responded to the rising demand for 7s the past two years, and is taking its most ambitious tour to date: New Zealand. [Photo: Amy Meendering Barksdale]

Related: Donate to the MW Baby Birds’ Travel Fund

“I went into it with the goal of just getting 15 kids to New Zealand, and now we’re almost at 100 people attending,” Midwest HS Thunderbirds Head Coach Garrett Fisher marveled at the response. “This happens because of the support we get from all the club teams and state-based organizations. We try to put on a good product and I think they appreciate what we do. We just want them to know that we appreciate them, because this doesn’t happen without their support. It’s everyone working to get these opportunities for the players, and that’s how we get the game to grow.”

Fisher returned to George Hook and Irish Rugby Tours, which set up the Thunderbirds’ 2019 tour to Ireland. From June 13-23, the group will make four stops — Wellington, Palmerston North, Rotorua and Auckland — and ideally play the provincial teams. It’s the winter in the southern hemisphere, so student-athletes are in school and the provincial teams might not be available. If not, then the Midwest will play the top single-school teams. The group will also fit in some professional rugby, most likely Super Rugby, in between sightseeing.


Midwest HS Thunderbirds Rugby

Annie Henrich @ Florida 15s All-Stars / Photo: Amy Meendering Barksdale

As for the player group, the staff went back through two years of Baby Birds starting with the July 2022 summer camp. Coaches evaluated the annual all-star 15s tournament that occurs in Florida every February, as well as the past two Tropical 7s outings.

“We wanted to offer this to every kid we had seen, and had enjoyed working with, and were good enough to be on a travel team,” Fisher said. “And we knew we wanted to play a lot of games in New Zealand. We wanted this to be more about the experience of a lifetime for these kids than only narrowing it down to the top 24 kids.”

So 35 players were selected. On game day, they’ll populate two evenly weighted teams for two separate games. Thirty-three players are in high school, and two alums who still make the age-grade cutoff just wrapped up their freshman years at Davenport University. Fisher is part of a five-person staff, but indicated that a lot of parents will be taking on tour duties to make the 11-day trip as smooth and memorable as possible.


Midwest HS Thunderbirds Rugby

Cece Rose @ 2024 FL All-Star 15s / Photo: Amy Meendering Barksdale

On and off the pitch, look for the following veteran leaders, many of which will be entering college rugby this fall: Mia Blocher (Warsaw > Notre Dame), Akil Dougherty (Chiefs > Princeton), Annie Henrich (Orchard Park > Dartmouth), Madison Hinrichs (Waverly-Shell Rock > Sacred Heart) and Cece Rose (Green Bay). They’ve all been on multiple tours with the Thunderbirds and some are identified USA Pathway players, too.

“And then there are the one who are really going to set their mark as the next up-and-coming stars for the U18s,” Fisher said of the rising-senior group. “Drew Dauser [Sparta-Rock] had an amazing Tropical 7s for us, and I really expect her to shine bright. Ariel Fotso [Carmel] made her mark in Florida this past February, and I think she’ll step up and do great things. Ava Thayer out of North Pitt had a tremendous Tropical 7s with the U16s. Lilly Stough [Waverly-Shell Rock] was supposed to be with us in Florida in February but got hurt in a state wrestling tournament. She came back for the U18 Tropical 7s and everyone was asking who she was. She’ll do great things in New Zealand into next year with the Thunderbirds.”

The aforementioned are all rising seniors and will be the core of the 2024-25 Thunderbirds.



Blocher, Mia – Warsaw Community HS, Ind.
Chura, Megan – St. Joseph Academy, Ohio
Cook, Camryn – Chicago Lions, Ill.
Coyer-Westberg, Carrie – Davenport Univ. (Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Ohio)
Dauser, Charlotte – Davenport Univ. (Sparta-Rock, Mich.)
Dauser, Drew – Sparta-Rock, Michigan
Davis, Asha – Chicago Lions, Ill.
Dougherty, Akil – Chiefs, Ill.
Fonnesbeck, Elle – Sparta-Rock, Mich.
Fotso, Arielle Sorelle Noussa – Carmel, Ind.
Graham, Liv – Grandville HS, Mich.
Hause, Josie – Westside Revenge, Ind.
Henrich, Annie – Orchard Park HS, N.Y.
Hinrichs, Madison – Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa
Hubbell, Maddie – St. Joseph Academy, Ohio
Lampe, Kali – Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa
Langworthy, Peyton – Orchard Park HS, N.Y.
Larkin Nora – St. Joseph Academy, Ohio
Link, Makenzie – West Pitt, Pa.
Mantel, Maggie – Perrysburg, Ohio
Muñiz Bermudez, Raquel – Warsaw Community HS, Ind.
Nurss, Ellie – Moon Area HS, Pa.
Post, Alyssa – Sparta-Rock, Mich.
Richards, Nadia – Taft HS, Ill.
Rose, Cece – Green Bay, Wis.
Roth, Morgan – Norwalk HS, Iowa
Scarff, Cece – Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa
Skolmowski, Stella – Perrysburg, Ohio
Smith, Kasse – Penn, Ind.
Steed, Ava – Moon Area HS, Pa.
Stevens, Bella – Catholic Memorial HS, Wis.
Stough, Lilly – Waverly-Shell Rock, Iowa
Thayer, Ava – North Pitt United, Pa.
Wiard, Delaney – Chargers, Ind.
Williams, Macy – Dublin, Ohio

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