The USA Rugby AIG Women’s Junior All-Americans may have lost both matches against Canada’s Under-20 women’s side this month in the Under-20 Women’s Can-Am Series, but it was a learning experience for Head Coach Danielle Miller and her young team.
Gabby Cantorna, fly-half and inside center, was the sole returning athlete from last year’s IRB U20 Women’s Nations Cup, making her the only WJAA with previous international playing experience in this Series.
Nine players had formerly participated in USA Rugby’s Stars and Stripes Camp, which is a great stepping stone for future elite player programs such as the WJAAs. However, it was the lack of international playing experience that ultimately hurt the WJAA team in their two losses to the Canadians.
“The athletes quickly learned the pace and intensity at the international level is not one that can be duplicated in a domestic match,” Miller said. “The coaches will need to adjust the training to recreate this intensity and pace in a controlled manner.”
The WJAAs had only three practices together before the first match of the series. In these practices not only were the players finding their footing as a team, but also still learning their teammates’ names, as this was the first time these athletes were meeting each other.
Practices were held in Batavia, N.Y., at the Genesee Community College training grounds before crossing the Canadian border and using the University of Western Ontario’s fields for the majority of the Series.
The WJAAs were strongly led by co-captains Kyla Chipman and Brianna Kim, despite it being the first taste of international experience for both players.
Younger members such as Lilly Durbin and Mata Hingano still have five years of eligibility with the WJAA program, before hopefully continuing on to the USA Rugby AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American team. These athletes are the future of women’s rugby in the United States.
“These players will be representing their country in the next five years on both the National 15s and sevens stages,” Miller commented. “It is programs such as the WJAAs that will increase the player development and experience to improve the women’s game in the United States.”
While the record books may not have reflected the outcome the WJAAs were hoping for, having international playing experience, such as this Can-Am Series, will increase their skills and performance for matches in the future.
The WJAA coaching staff look forward to next year’s Under-20 Nation’s Cup with excitement as the players will be able to grow from this experience. Miller said she “expects the fitness and handling skills to be improved upon, which will be left to the players’ motivation during this next year.”
The coaches are adjusting the training program and selection process to select the top players in the United States to participate next year.