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Thunderbirds Click in FL, Now Ready for U16s

  • 28 Jan 2020

Photo: John English

The Midwest High School Thunderbirds returned to Florida for its annual 15s winter tour and fielded 26 players from eight states during the three-game series. The regional all-star team went defeated the Florida All-Stars and USA Rugby South U19s twice, extending its undefeated streak in the Sunshine State.

RELATED: Full Midwest HS Roster

The “Baby Birds” opened with an 87-10 win over the Florida All-Stars on Friday, followed with a 62-7 win over the USA South on Saturday, and then finished with a 24-0 victory against the Panthers on Sunday.

“With 26 players, we felt that was a good number for three games. It was a game-and-a-half for each player, which was a good bit of rugby without anyone being overworked,” Midwest High School coach Garrett Fisher said. “The Florida All-Stars played hard and physical like we expected them to. Rugby down there is growing and getting more involved. USA South played up-tempo and fast. Chris Martin is a good offensive coach and we focused hard on a game plan that we thought would match up well with what we thought they would do on offense. Last year they had hard-running players in the midfield so we really focused on double-tackling the first and second receivers.”

As the scoreline suggests, Sunday’s match was more competitive.

“The South came back stronger on day two,” Fisher said. “We didn’t select first and second sides. We took the top 26 and thought we were deep from top to bottom. We did not let up.”

Midwest 24-0 South

Tries: Molly Cancian, Aly Cunningham, Delaney Moyer, Emily Rahija, Anna Walters

Midwest 62-7 USA South

Tries: Haley Crow 3, Aly Cunningham 3, Molly Cancian 2, Lou Justice, Delaney Moyer, Emily Rahija, Anna Walters

Cons: Cunningham

Midwest 87-10 Florida

Tries: Lou Justice 3, Kate Pofok 3, AJ Pant 2, Anna Walters 2, Molly Cancian, Roisin Gilbert, Hannah Koorndyk, Dani McQuillan, Shay Ross, Kate Woenker, Marley Wylie

Cons: Pofok

“This group was special because some of them have been together now for four years. We’ve been working with them since their freshmen year and they’ve gone through multiple camps and tours with us,” Fisher said. “And because of that, one thing we talked about was reading and recognizing how we want to attack – go through, go over, go around the defense.”

That verbiage is something that Fisher adopted from the Girls High School All-American program and its head coach, Martha Daines.

“They’re not shy about what they’re teaching and want to get it to high school clubs,” Fisher said of interactions with age grade coaches. “I was lucky enough to get to Chula Vista two years ago and I picked up on the lingo that [Daines] was using. It really helps explain the different attacks exactly to the players: Go through, go over, go around the defense. It clicks. So I echo that to them. If they do move onto national camps or programs, we want them to have that exposure.”

Fisher praised Pofok (St. Joseph Academy, Ohio) and Cunningham (Catholic Memorial, Wisc.) for implementing that “read and recognize” attack from flyhalf.

“You look for that application from them. They did a great job and the offense was really smooth,” Fisher said. “You have them for three days so it can be hard to implement things, but I’m so very pleased that it really clicked for a lot of them this tour.”

The coach also highlighted veterans Abbey Terpstra (Hopkins, Minn.) and Walters (Hudson, Ohio) for solid tours, and Orchard Park’s Kayla Hoch, who “applied that go-through aspect very well – how we want to catch the ball at pace to break the line and set up players like Terpstra, AJ Pant [Penn, Ind.] and Marley Wiley [Highland, Ohio] on the wing,” Fisher said.

Both Pant and Wiley made their Thunderbirds debut on Friday. The former scored two tries and the latter was named MVP. Fisher also praised young back Mariah Norris-Johnson from Sycamore, Ill., for a great tour and Hannah Koorndyk (Grandville, Mich.) for positional flexibility and good attitude.

“We put players in positions where we think they’ll project later in their careers,” Fisher prefaced. “Hannah Koorndyk had been playing center at Grandville and we told her she was playing at flanker [in Florida], but that’d she project as a tight five player. She didn’t hesitate at all, did a great job and got notice from college coaches.”

NCAA varsity coaches from Brown University, Dartmouth College, Queens University of Charlotte and Sacred Heart University were in St. Petersburg taking in the action, while a slew of institutions – Alderson Broaddus, Guilford College, Lindenwood University, Quinnipiac University, among others – requested the film.

“We feel we are finding that elite-level talent, and that comes with the success of the program during the five years I’ve been with it,” Fisher said. “It’s getting easier because the kids are more aware of the program and we’ve done some cool stuff so they’re coming out.”

Fisher indicated that Chicago and Minnesota are areas that the program would like deeper connections, and that objective will be pursued this spring along with developing a U16 team. The Midwest will play a two-game series against the Ontario Storm at the University of Guelph (Toronto) this July, and the host has requested games for its U18 and U16 sides.

“I do think it’s the right time for it,” Fisher said of the program’s first U16 team. “The growth of the player pool is getting deep enough that we really are pulling top-tier players, and we do believe we can fill out a U16 team with just the number of players who have filled out info sheets last year. That will be our number one priority – finding those freshmen and sophomores – and coaches have already been reaching out.”

These assemblies obviously benefit the players, but they are growth opportunities for the coaches as well. Fisher has assembled a staff that he trusts and values, and they’re important to the players’ view on the sport overall.

“Besides John [English], my one male assistant, I’ve always focused on selecting young, female coaches,” Fisher said. “I think that’s important for players to see that women are coaching a lot more and there’s been a heavy push for that. It should be celebrated that we have fantastic female coaches in the country who can lead them in higher-level and select side play. There’s been so much interest from them, coming on and leading games and drills and S&C.”

For more information, contact Fisher.


Hannah Roodhouse, Columbus Women

Dr. Kinsey Bryant-Lees, Cincinnati Kelts

Raven Jones, Director Walnut Hills Girls

Stephanie “Parma” Bowers, Head 7s Coach Denison Women

John English, Director of Rugby Ohio Wesleyan University

Garrett Fisher, Head 15s Coach, Denison University Women

Midwest #Thunderbirds

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