This time next week, players from around the country will be heading toward Greeley, Colo., for Women’s All-Star Week. The 15s event will feature teams from the Women’s Premier League (WPL), Division I and II clubs combined, and the Women’s Collegiate All-Americans (WCAAs), and also draw USA Women’s 15s head coach Rob Cain and staff.
The WPL began hosting an all-star game in summer 2017 and it’s a known fixture on the league’s calendar. Last year, Cain invited two players from the 2018 WPL East vs. West All-Star Game to the USA high performance camp the following week in Chula Vista, Calif. The All-Americans also have a scouting system in place, and in June, new WCAA head coach Katie Dowty oversaw four new I.D. camps, dubbed “Regional Opportunity Days,” that took a deeper dive into the collegiate player pool.
But the DI and DII senior clubs haven’t had an all-star structure that was governed by USA Rugby since 2013. Competitive Regions (USA South, Midwest) and Geographic Unions (Capital, Mid-America, Texas) run senior all-star programs, and they set up their own games and create their own competitions. Last year, Kate Daley and Ros Chou, who returns as WPL East All-Star coach opposite West All-Star coach Parisa Asgharzadeh, were discussing opportunities for senior club players. Daley posed a four-team all-star event with the WPL (2), WCAAs and new DI-II select side; Chou contacted Emilie Bydwell, USA Rugby’s General Manager of Women’s High Performance; and the new event and team came to fruition.
The upcoming Women’s All-Star Week is the first step in re-establishing senior all-stars with national oversight, where national selectors will be present for an official scouting opportunity.
Photo: Rugbytown 7s
“I do think it’s important,” said Koma Gandy Fischbein, head coach of the combined DI-II all-star team. “A lot of the time you have people who, by virtue of where they are in their lives, aren’t as mobile and can’t gravitate toward WPL cities. This [team and event] is a recognition that there is talent at all levels of the game. It’s important for DI and DII athletes – not that they don’t get attention, but to give them a tangible opportunity to showcase their talent to multiple coaches at different levels.”
When Gandy Fischbein accepted the head coach role back in May, the selection process for the DI-II all-star team was already underway.
“Covering DI and DII is a pretty ambitious task, and we did our best to see as many matches as possible – either live or through recorded media,” Gandy Fischbein said. “We did a divide-and-conquer type of thing.”
The New York City resident was effusive in her praise of assistant coaches Jason Scheissl and Brad Richard, and manager KJ Abel Ruch, all of whom evaluated coaches’ player nominations and recommendations from USA Rugby’s high performance database. Gandy Fischbein flew to Obetz, Ohio, to take in the DI and DII national finals, and those four teams – NOVA, Austin, Sacramento and Harrisburg – all produced worthy additions to the all-star team.
Invitations began circulating in early June, and the 26-player team has been selected (roster announcement will come from USA Rugby).
“We have pretty good geographic distribution,” the coach cited Colorado, Washington, New Jersey and Massachusetts as additional contributors. “It’s a very solid group of athletes with a lot of talent and experience. This is a great opportunity for them to play alongside people who are also pursuing their highest level of rugby, and against players they do not normally see. I’m excited to see how they all come together and make that productive magic on the field.”
The club players will arrive in Colorado on July 30, and after three training sessions, competition will begin on Thursday, Aug. 1. There is a rest day/captain’s run on that Friday and then the second game day will commence on Saturday, Aug. 3. Last year, the WPL All-Star game marked Cain’s introduction to the country’s elite 15s league, and the head coach will return for an expanded view of the club sphere.
“I’m very happy it’s happening because it’s giving people a valuable opportunity to look beyond the WPL and age grade structure to find talent,” Gandy Fischbein said.
Stay tuned for more information, including schedule and rosters, from USA Rugby.