After a year’s hiatus due to Covid, the newly named Mary Graham All-Star 15s Tournament brought senior club select sides (and two stand-alone teams) to Grand Prairie, Texas, on Dec. 4-5. The eight women’s club rugby teams were divided into two brackets: Pacific Northwest won Tier 1, and the Chicago Lions won Tier 2.
“It was amazing,” Pacific Northwest Director of Rugby Lance Pruett described the overall vibe of the tournament. “The players were really hungry for the competition. A lot of teams have not yet had a full, official match since the pandemic started, so having the opportunity to play competitive rugby was incredible for the players.
“This tournament is fantastic,” Pruett continued. “It is always very well organized and a pleasure to attend. Wendy Young and company do such a wonderful job getting it together. We really can’t wait to go back in 2022. Unfortunately, because of COVID concerns, we didn’t have the opportunity for a tournament-wide dinner, like we did in 2019, but that was the only real disappointment.”
The Pacific Northwest made its first appearance at the all-star tournament in 2019, the event’s fourth iteration. The team won the Tier 2 title and also set a foundation for future expectations. That trajectory, of course, reset as the pandemic disrupted the traditional rugby cycle.
“PNRFU was really a mixed bag in the fall,” Pruett explained the state of play for senior clubs. “A few teams were able to keep it together enough to be able to field 15+ players regularly, but many were not. We had to be creative and flexible to make matches happen, with teams combining to form ‘motley’ sides. We are hoping that by doing so, we will get a lot of players to come back in the spring and be able to have a more standard competition structure.”
There were two tryouts with more than 30 players at each, and those numbers were pleasant surprises for the staff. The coaching staff consisted of head coach Matt Burke from the Bend Roughriders (Ore.), and assistant coaches Vince Spagnolo (Boise United) and Meg Foster (Centennial High School, Boise, Idaho). Together with DOR Pruett, the staff selected 24 players from eight clubs to represent the region in Texas.
“Our goals are always the same, to provide an opportunity for players to improve their rugby and to play with and against quality players, while representing as much of the union as possible,” Pruett explained. “We feel like we achieved that. We had players from eight teams on the roster, and that represented every team that had players at tryouts. We are hoping that next year we will have every team in the union represented on the traveling squad.”
Texas won Tier 1 in 2019 while also fielding motley and U24 squads in Tier 2 that year. In 2021, the Austin Valkyries (along with Tier 2-winning Chicago Lions) entered a stand-alone squad and didn’t lend any players to the Texas all-star team. The Midwest’s top side and Capital also competed in Tier 1, and both regions contested much more robust falls than Texas and the Pacific Northwest. The Midwest played its full 15s season and name a DII champion (Palmer College) and DI finalists (the Chicago Lions vs. Metropolis final was postponed to the spring). Capital was fully active in the fall portion of its 15s split season.
On day one, Texas beat Midwest 1 44-22, and Pacific Northwest bettered Capital 25-22.
“The competition in Texas was amazing,” Pruett enthused. “You really could not have asked for better. Our match on Saturday, against the Old Glory Capital Selects, went into OT and was decided by a drop-goal shootout. On Sunday, we got out to a decent lead, but Texas came roaring back and we barely escaped with the win.”
In the Sunday final, Pacific Northwest beat Texas 31-27, and the Midwest beat Capital 37-5.
“We are fortunate to have players like Adrienne ‘Ace’ Acosta and Claire Lundy from ORSU, who really helped shape the side in 2019 and returned this year,” Pruett noted standout performances. “Erin Stehr of the Budd Bay Bandits was given the captain’s role for the backs this year and was huge during the tournament, kicking the game-tying conversion against Capital on Saturday, among other things.
“We were also super-impressed with some of our younger players, like Alex Fletcher on the wing who is around 23 years old, Emele ‘Tua’ Tanupo (20), who played prop in Texas but can also play in the centers, and Julia Pedro (18) who did a great job at fullback for us,” the DOR continued. “There were so many amazing performances across the weekend, though. Every single player came up big at some point.”
The Chicago Lions won Tier 2, first defeating Mid-America 41-12 in the semifinals and then Midwest 2 41-10 in the final. The Austin Valkyries won the 3rd place match after dropping a 31-29 contest to the Midwest on Saturday, and then defeating Mid-America 21-17 Sunday.
“The only thing I would like to see changed is that two club teams were needed to fill out the eight-team tournament,” Pruett closed. “Hopefully, some more unions will be able to attend next year, making it a tournament of all select sides.”
There are other unions playing all-star rugby. The USA South had participated in years past but missed the 2021 event. The California Grizzlies resemble the Pacific Coast Grizzlies of yore, and hosted the Colorado Gray Wolves in September. And on Dec. 11, the Southwest beat Rocky Mountain select sides met in Albuquerque, N.M., for the Mountain West Trophy. The Southwest won 34-27.
The Pacific Northwest Selects are working on plans for 2022. The team is slated as the curtain-raiser for the Major League Rugby’s Seawolves match on Feb. 10 and is organizing a tour to New Zealand in conjunction with Rugby World Cup in the fall.
Adrienne (Ace) Acosta – ORSU
Taylor Bell – Bend Roughriders
Erin Breen – Boise United
Madison (Rogers) Feddersen – Tacoma Sirens
Alex Fletcher – ORSU
Nicky Fritz – Bend Roughriders
Angela (Gonzo) Gonzalez – ORSU
Paris Hart – ORSU
Te Ho Chee – ORSU
Louisa Keating – Bend Roughriders
Leena Kim-Ngan Vien – Boise United
Claire Lundy – ORSU
Cass Malchow – Portland Pigs
Riclaire Martinez – ORSU
Shashana Markus – Tacoma Sirens
Liz Mastrangelo – ORSU
Cassandra Miller – Eugene Reign
Mariko Moore – ORSU
Julia Pedro – Salem Attack Owls
Madison Rathsman – ORSU
Tani Reynolds – Bend Roughriders
Erin Stehr – Budd Bay Bandits
Emele (Tua) Tanupo – Boise United
Tiffany (Totts) Tate – ORSU
Matt Burke, Head Coach – Bend Roughriders
Vinnie Spagnolo, Asst. Coach – Boise United
Meg Foster, Asst. Coach – Centennial HS (Boise, ID)
Mara Burnell, Manager – Bend Roughriders
Lance Pruett – Director of Rugby
Texas 44-22 Midwest 1
Pacific Northwest 25-22 Capital
3rd: Midwest 1 37-5 Capital
Final: Pacific Northwest 31-27 Texas
Chicago Lions 41-12 Mid-America
Midwest 2 31-29 Austin
3rd: Austin 21-17 Mid-America
Final: Chicago Lions 41-10 Midwest 2