Stars Rugby is an invitational touring program and its women’s teams have played all over the U.S. and world. Interest eventually built for a girls’ U18 team and so this spring Stars Director Liz Entwhistle expanded into the high school sphere. By summer’s end, the Stars U18s will have played four tournaments, and there are plans for more expansion.
“Players from the Midwest, especially, haven’t had the same opportunities as the SoCal/NorCal, Utah, Northeast/CODP and Atlantis [players] over the years,” Entwhistle explained the appetite for more U18 elite opportunities. “Having done commentary at NAI 7s the last few years, coaching/playing at NY 7s, and being at the LVI, it seems like there are pockets of 7s development and opportunities from portions of the country.”
Entwhistle linked up with Joseph Garcia from Wisconsin and the Badger Selects to develop the U18 Stars player pool, and the team debuted at the Tropical 7s in Orlando. The team then traveled to Austin and won the Bloodfest 7s, will compete in the Great North 7s next weekend (the team is looking for a couple of more bodies) and wrap up the summer in Salt Lake City with the NAI 7s.
All the while, Entwhistle remains in constant contact with Martha Daines, the Girls High School All-American (GHSAA) director, and coaches around the country, promoting those players who could project upward.
“Before and after each tour I send Martha Daines our rosters, notes on players, and full game film,” Entwhistle explained. “As a result four Stars girls players are going to the fall 15s camp and two played on the recent GHSAA [team at NextGen7s in Canada].
“We also connect players to college coaches, discuss opportunities based on their desired field of study, and big vs. small towns, big vs. small campuses and more,” Entwhistle continued. “We have used Karen Fong Donoghue of The Rugger’s Edge as a resource and we have been helping players create and edit rugby resumes and game film. We have hired Gift Egbelu of Gift-Time productions on our tours to professionally film each match and create player highlight reels while also putting all the games live on Facebook so parents and coaches at home can watch in real time.”
When in Alaska for the Midnight 7s, Entwhistle added two recent high school graduates to the senior team that won the tournament. Mount St. Mary’s head coach Farrah Douglas happened to tune into the Facebook live feed, was impressed by the two Alaskan youngsters, contacted Entwhistle about their availability, and now both have offers to play varsity rugby in Maryland.
“We’ve also been able to connect the junior players with senior Stars who have played for/against schools of interest,” Entwhistle said of the Stars network. “The older players have been fantastic about answering questions and serving as mentors as well.”
After the first two tournament, a handful of players have really distinguished themselves and are getting opportunities at the next level as a result.
“Anna Walters is one of our most exciting players,” Entwhistle said of the Hudson, Ohio, native who distinguished herself on the S. “She is fast and shifty and is a threat at scrumhalf, flyhalf or wing. She has a quick step and the ability to change directions on a dime without losing pace. … Anna played in Canada [with the GHSAA 7s] and came back to us for Austin Bloodfest 7s a stronger player who had a couple hat-trick games on the wing.”
Walter played with Jocie Hanson (Rocky Mountain, Boise) in Canada and joined the Stars family in Austin, serving as co-captain. She and Walter will be two of four Stars players heading to the National Development Invitational Tournament (NDIT) in Little Rock this August and to shadow the older players.
“She’s a calm flyhalf who has great vision, a true field general,” Entwhistle praised Hanson. “She is a threat to run as she plays with her hips turned up-field rather than always opening up wide to pass, so defenses have to respect her. She will distribute & support strongly too.”
Catholic Memorial’s Haley Crow played 7s for the first time ever, “and as the tournament progressed her nose for finding space rather than pure 15s go-forward improved,” the coach lauded the GHSAA 15s camp invitee. “Haley is a staunch defender with many powerful tackles for turnovers and offensively she had at least four line-breaks up the middle of over 40 meters.”
Kristy Herhold was scouted at the Midwest High School Championship, scoring multiple tries for Perrysburg. The elusive, aggressive No. 8 is heading to Notre Dame College in the fall and had a strong showing at Bloodfest. Herhold will join Walters on the two final Stars tours and bring strong defense, poaching ability, speed and well timed lines.
“These first few tours have been about finding the appropriate players to play in the appropriate tournaments and really get a handle on what ‘Elite’ means to Stars at the U18 level,” Entwhistle considered future growth. What are the cost efficient, quality tours and how can we work with other programs to provide the proper amount of tours as well? There is so much pay-to-play rugby that we have to stay cognizant of what players and parents can afford with the costs of money, time, and having time off for recovery in what is becoming a year-round sport of rugby.”
Entwhistle doesn’t want players to choose between their home teams and the Stars, either, as these next-level experiences should be conflict-free and positively influence players’ local rugby. As for fixtures, Stars is considering a Thanksgiving or Winter Break trip somewhere warm.
“We’d love to take a team to Hawaii and play a team like Kahuku or arrange a competition in Mexico or explore the Australian youth 7s series,” Entwhistle enthused. “Many of the places our senior teams travel to have youth components so it’s exciting to explore what’s possible!”