Nearly 150 collegiate athletes converged on Cottage Grove, Wisc., last weekend in search of higher-level competition within the Midwest. The regional U24 all-star tournament saw six sides contest three matches each, with Ohio emerging as victor.
“All-star fixtures such as these are extremely helpful with the further development of talent in our sport. If you want to be the best, you need to play the best,” Ohio U24 coach Jeff Horton conveyed. “While Ohio is blessed to have quality rugby programs at all levels of play, during the league season it’s rare for these players to face teams that are stacked with talent from top to bottom. It is also extremely helpful for these players to work with athletes who can push them to reach their fullest potential. I am extremely confident that each player who played – on any team – walked away a slightly better player than when they first showed up.”
Horton coaches the DI Kent State women and accepted the Ohio all-star head coaching job a month prior to the tournament. With such a short window to organize the team, Horton forewent tryouts and consulted with coaches around the state. He chose 26 college-age athletes from nine programs, which ranged from senior clubs Akron and Dayton, to DI colleges Notre Dame College and Ohio State, through NSCRO schools like Denison.
The team’s first practice occurred at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday. Prior to the assembly, Horton used social media outlets to discuss offensive and defensive strategies and situational game play. He complemented those forums with video footage as reference material. But the top goal for Horton was getting this band of disparate players working as a cohesive entity.
“Since many of our players had never met before, it was crucial to put them in various situations that required them to work together as a team and become comfortable with one another,” Horton explained. “We broke the athletes into ‘squads’ based on their primary positions and made sure to separate players who play together on their respective home clubs.”
That first training session focused on executing drills that required efficient communication, and that helped develop some cohesion. The first game pit Ohio against Wisconsin’s developmental side (the host state entered two teams). It took some time for Ohio to tighten up its game, but once that continuity started to solidify, Ohio piled on 82 unanswered points. Ohio followed with a 43-5 victory over Minnesota, setting up a final against Wisconsin’s top side. On Sunday, Ohio triumphed 42-27 for the Midwest U24 title.
“It’s incredibly hard to single out just a few players from the weekend, as all 26 played crucial roles on Saturday,” Horton surveyed the squad. “Cyndi Campbell from Ohio State had a huge impact for us throughout the tournament and finished with seven tries and made multiple conversions.
“Defensively, our forwards – led by Notre Dame College’s Patsy Ford – played quite well the entire weekend, and our system operated smoothly due to [Kent State’s] Sarah Giachetti leading the attack from the flyhalf position.”
Horton did further single out Campbell and Ford as players who could project at the higher levels. Both have a good combination of raw talent, athleticism and efficiency on both sides of the ball. But the coach also valued the event beyond player identification.
“Did I forget to mention that these events are fun for the players, too,” Horton posed. “The memories and networks created this weekend will last a lifetime, and that is what this sport is all about.”
The spring is generally a friendly season in the Midwest, which is starting to embrace competitive 7s and the championships toward which they build. The all-star tournament injected a higher-level 15s fixture into the collegiate landscape and remains a valuable asset in player development.
OHIO U24 ALL-STARS
Marcaya Bailous – Notre Dame College
Alexis Barnes – Wright State
Cyndi Campbell – Ohio State
McKenna Cimperman – Ohio State
Brooke Clifford – Kent State
Jordan Costy – Akron
Tori Fantozzi – Ohio State
Emilia Ferrera – Notre Dame College
Nicole Fogwell – Kent State
Patsy Ford – Glendale (NDC)
Sarah Giachetti – Kent State
Darby High – Ohio State
Hannah Long – Notre Dame College
MaryKate McNulty – Denison Univ.
Brittany Morrison – Ohio State Univ.
Alexis Morrison – Univ. Findlay
Abby Radnitzer – Denison Univ.
Hannah Roodhouse – Denison Univ.
Ja’lia Sheppard – Denison Univ.
Destiny Shivener – Wright State
Stephanie Snoeberger – Wright State
Cynthia Stevenson – Dayton
Danielle Walko-Suia – Notre Dame College
Abigail Walters – Univ. Findlay
Katie White – Kent State
Chemtria Wilson – Ohio Univ.
Coach: Jeff Horton – Kent State