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U20s Ramirez: We Asked, They Delivered

  • 12 Jun 2019

Last week, the USA U20s assembled at Neumann University (Aston, Pa.) for a five-day camp and two games against the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) 15s All-Stars. USA U20s head coach Ricardo Ramirez reflects on his time at the helm thus far and the assembly:

RELATED: NSCRO Inaugurates All-Star 15s2019 Women’s Rugby Calendar

Ramirez essentially had the head coach position during the December 2018 Winter Camp in Chula Vista, Calif., serving as U19 Lead Coach. Immediately after camp, preparations for the June assembly began.

“It’s been hectic,” said Ramirez, who is also head coach of Notre Dame. “There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work – scouting reports, communicating with everyone who’s at the playoffs and championships, familiarizing myself with all the players, new and old. The country is so big and we’re throwing a big net out there, but all the wheels have to be turning at the same time to make it all work.”

Ramirez is coming out of the Girls High School All-American (GHSAA) system and so there’s familiarity with a core group of players who are moving into this age group. He knows other players from various camps and tours.

Davenport’s Megan Bird / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“The first camp I did at Chula Vista, the players were pretty well established in terms of who was invited,” Ramirez explained. “Into this assembly, we brought another group, maybe players who were in the pathway and then took some time off so they could focus on their freshman year of college. There was a nice group with new and returning players.”

Of the 36 players who reported to the June camp, 22 were present at the winter camp. That figure includes Hawaii’s Kapoina Bailey, who trained with the U18s in Chula Vista. See the full roster at the end of the article.

“I don’t really look at it that way – veterans and rookies,” Ramirez considered groups of players. “Just because you’ve been to something before doesn’t mean you get a free spot. And I don’t really want a veteran group and a newcomer group. I want them to blend right away and that’s what they did.”

Lindenwood’s Morgan Freeman / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

The squad used that first Sunday as a breather day, especially as some athletes were coming straight from the CRC 7s, which is held in Chester, Pa., fewer than five miles away from Neumann. NSCRO had planned the logistics, since it, too, had an all-star 7s team at the CRCs.

“We tried to provide an environment where they could show a little personality and that helped them stay together as a group and create that cohesion and bond during training sessions,” Ramirez said. “On the field, we told everyone we were looking at work rate, that that was something we wanted to focus on. It’s not just who can make that one big play but who can continually do so throughout an entire game of rugby.”

Defense was a big focal point as well. All of the players’ hometown teams run their own defense, so attention was placed on the tackle area and the phases that come after that. Continuity is always a work in progress, one that evokes players’ ability to adjust to new players, new positions, and new opponents.

Quinnipiac’s Clara Lemal Brown / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“One thing we try to do is give them some structure but really give them that space to show us what they’ve got,” Ramirez considered the offense. “We put them in the right spot and give them the options, and we want to see what they’ll do with that. It forces them to expand their rugby IQ.

“Sometimes they try something and make that mistake, and we encourage that right now,” the coach continued. “In doing so, sometimes what they did naturally was the right decision – or better decision than if we had just told them what to do. Everybody had those moments and it was great to see.”

The staff asked everyone to play at least two positions – one with which they were comfortable, and a second that might require a lot of new information.

Julia Riekena (Army) & Leilani Mendoza (Stanford) in support / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“You don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one position,” Ramirez said of practical reasons for such a strategy. “Big thing this camp was being flexible and adaptive. We wanted to challenge them and you can’t just put someone where they’re comfortable [position wise] and get that result.

“At any given point, you might be the biggest or fastest player on your team, but as you move up each level – from high school to college, or U20s or Collegiate All-Americans, then seniors – you might not be,” the coach added. “This promotes growth.”

Adaptability is a useful attribute on tour, but selection to the U20 Tri-Nations squad was not a talking point during camp.

Harvard’s Cassidy Bargell / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“Maybe the players were thinking about tour because they’ve read about it and it’s in the back of their heads, by myself and the staff were not looking ahead or putting those nerves on them,” Ramirez said. “We wanted them to focus on camp and our objectives there.

“Also, we told everyone that camp wasn’t just about U20s, because there are other opportunities – Collegiate All-American stuff, U20 7s stuff,” the coach added. “So if they didn’t make the touring squad, they might be looked at for something else.”

After three days of training, the USA U20s lined up against the NSCRO 15s All-Stars, a new program led by co-coaches Bryn Chivers and Jeff Noe (read more).

Notre Dame College’s Saher Hamdan / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“The good part about playing NSCRO is that these players never really have the chance to play each other. There’s no opportunity outside of 7s. So that’s another unknown X factor,” Ramirez said. “It’s just more of the ‘adjusting to the unfamiliar,’ which was what I was going for.”

There was one exception: Kelly DeGrood of St. Bonaventure University attended the Chula Vista winter camp with the U19s and then aligned with NSCRO for the 15s all-star outing.

On game days, the U20 staff divvied up the roles, allowing Ramirez to both pay attention to his team and also evaluate NSCRO.

“Even when the score was more one way than the other, it was good to see what the NSCRO group would do and they how they reacted,” the coach said. “It was an opportunity to see those players, who we can now recommend to other 7s or Collegiate All-American events. Growing NSCRO 15s is a big thing and we were happy to help it off the ground.”

The U20s got the competition for which they were looking and won both games, 67-7 and 65-5.

BYU’s Matalasi Morrissette / Photo: Anne-Marie Lemal Brown

“Everyone was really open to what we asked them to do, and they were able to take that and turn it into something,” Ramirez said of the positive performances. “We asked for work rate and they gave us work rate, while also showing us some creativity.”

The video from both games, featuring both teams, is available to all of the coaches in the USA pathway.

The invitations to the U20 Tri-Nations Cup have started to go out and Ramirez indicated that 26-28 players will be selected. Watch USA Rugby for the release of the travel squad.


Tiana A’au – P, Central Washington Univ.

Tiara A’au – P, Central Washington Univ.

Alejandra Ada – SH, Dartmouth College

Susan Adegoke – W, Life Univ.

Ubaida Ahmed – FB, Mount St. Mary’s Univ.

Ina Bailey – 8, Kona Bulls HS

Cassidy Bargell – SH, Harvard Univ.

Megan Bird – FB, Davenport Univ.

Sydnee Cervinski – C, Life Univ.

Moira Dillow – L, Lindenwood Univ.

Adrionna Duncan – W, Life Univ.

Paige Fallon – L, Life Univ.

Morgan Freeman – H, Lindenwood Univ.

Natalie Gray – L, Lindenwood Univ.

Sophia Haley – FL, Dartmouth College

Saher Hamdan – H, Notre Dame College

Erica Jarrell – L, Harvard Univ. / Beantown Rugby

Tori Jones – P/H, Univ. of Notre Dame

Allison Koenig – FH, Quinnipiac Univ.

Clara Lemal-Brown – W, Quinnipiac Univ.

Leilani Mendoza – SH, Stanford Univ.

Matalasi Morrissette – FH, BYU

Ryan Payne – P, Belmont Shore

Marin Pennell – FL, Dartmouth College

Karissa Postula – C, Oregon Sports Union

Julia Riekena – 8, Army West Point

Darina Roe – FH, Penn State Univ.

Jojo Skucek – P, Lindenwood Univ.

Rachel Strasdas – C, BYU

Sam Tancredi – L, Lindenwood Univ.

Zyana Thomas – P, Brown Univ.

Nohea Uluave – C, Lindenwood Univ.

Erin Walsh – C, St. Mary’s College (CA)

Nicole Wantlin – FL, Army West Point

Elizabeth Wilson – FL, NOVA Rugby

Glory Woolley – 8, Oklahoma State Univ.


Head Coach | Ricardo “Chago” Ramirez

Assistant Coach | Craig Wilson

Assistant Coach | Emily Record

Strength & Conditioning Coach | Sylvia Braaten

Head Athletic Trainer | Diane Watanabe

Assistant Athletic Trainer | Janie Kluempers

Team Manager | Anna Kunkel

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