The Women’s Premier League (WPL) will contest its final regular-season matches this weekend, and then the stage will be set for nationals on Friday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 28 in Atlanta. For 17 players, there will be little time to reflect on that 10th WPL season, as they’ll board a Monday morning flight to Chicago in preparation for the USA 15s November test series.
Eagle 15s captain Kate Zackary is among the busiest of the bunch. After featuring at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July, the skipper reconsidered playing options.
“I wanted to take a step back and give my body a rest from the day-to-day,” the former 7s resident said. “It was a long [7s] season last year, and I had been thinking about it heading into the World Cup. But on the flip side, once you’re in it, it’s hard to leave it. … I talked with Richie [Walker] and Emilie [Bydwell] and even Rob [Cain] about my options and what I wanted to focus on. I got a lot of support in that regard.”
Originally Zackary wanted to coach the San Diego Surfers, but after an idle August as well as the announcement of a meaty November tour, the desire to play resurfaced. So the flanker returned to the WPL pitch and player-coaches alongside head coach Jarrod Faul. Fellow Eagle Jam Reinhardt is also assisting from the sideline, and the two forwards are leading the pack this fall.
The Surfers currently lead the Blue Conference at 5-1-1 and have clinched a semifinal berth alongside Glendale, also 5-1-1. Twin Cities will represent the Red Conference in the national final four, and this weekend’s matches will determine the final title seeker from the East.
Zackary has enjoyed the opportunity to focus solely on 15s and direct all of that mental energy into one game. The Eagle captain recalled the 2016 season, when 7s residents traveled to France and Italy for November tests and then flew directly to Dubai to kick off the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. There’s still crossover in the 7s residents and 15s tour-goers, but only Jordan Gray is competing at the Glendale 7s (Oct. 20-21) and then traveling with the Eagle 15s team.
In between Surfers duty and working at The Point, a San Diego event venue, Zackary has been able to bank some face time with new USA 15s coach Rob Cain.
“As you know, he’s had such a busy fall season getting around the country and meeting players,” Zackary said. “But after the 7s World Cup, I worked alongside him and the Junior All-Americans [in SoCal] who were getting ready for the Tri-Nations Cup. He’s attended Surfers practice and I’ve worked with him one-on-one in Chula Vista.”
That connection will be important during the November tour, as Zackary serves as liaison between the players and staff.
“Realistically the role doesn’t change,” Zackary said of being a captain or a player on the pitch. “You have to be there and available to your teammates. The most important thing is everyone’s working their hardest. I’m very honored. I can’t lie that I’m not nervous, but it’s motivating to be my best.”
Zackary is focused on refining her own skills, so that when the team – the majority of which is uncapped – gets together, she can be a resource.
“It’s important for us to trust that we have experience on this team with some of the best club players and best collegiate athletes on the roster,” Zackary looked toward the Chicago test. “We know New Zealand is highly skilled and we are just as skilled. We have girls playing year round. We have to be ourselves and tough at the breakdown and confident in ourselves, just working together out there.
“This is the biggest platform the Women Eagles have ever had on home soil,” the captain added. “It’s the biggest opportunity we have to showcase our skills, compete and impress the nation.”
The significance of The Rugby Weekend (Nov. 3) is not lost on the skipper, but Zackary and fellow WPL players still have some steps to take before indulging that buildup.
“If 7s has taught me anything, it’s to focus on one thing at a time. You might have six tournaments in 7s but you can’t look past the first goal,” said Zackary. “We want to win our [WPL] conference and hope to do so with a win against ORSU this weekend. The next step is nationals, winning that first game and then hopefully moving onto the championship. And then Monday morning we board a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago.”