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The American Rugby Pro Training Center took home the women’s club 7s national championship Sunday, going 6-0 on the weekend. The ARPTC did not have an easy path to the title, having to beat the defending champion San Diego Surfers in the semifinals and heavyweight Seattle Saracens twice amidst enduring two more one-score games along the way.
“We had to play, really, almost every hard team to get to the top. It was a tough draw, but a great opportunity for the players,” said ARPTC coach Julie McCoy.
“I had three 18-year-olds, two 19-year-olds and a 20-year-old on that team. Those girls have only been there two months, and we really only built this team since January, so for us to get the opportunity to play those types of teams almost every game was huge for us.
“It’s exactly why we entered the academy team into club 7s nationals. It wasn’t to necessarily win club 7s nationals, although everybody wants to win. The point was trying to develop our athletes.”
The ARPTC eked out a 7-5 win over Scion in the tournament opener, with prop Abby Vestal scoring the lone try. The Little Rock-based side then beat the Saracens 26-15 and Boston 28-10 to round out pool play. To finish day one, ARPTC ran up against newcomer Life West in the quarterfinals, winning 17-12 to advance to Sunday’s semifinal against the Surfers.
San Diego, coached by Eagles 7s assistant Richie Walker, was stacked with current and former national team and OTC-contracted players, like Hannah Lockwood, Deven Owsiany, Jessica Javelet, Danielle Miano and Phaidra Knight.
“It was the best game of the day. What it did was pit our athletes, one-on-one, against their athletes, one-on-one,” recalled McCoy.
“Even though we had good structure, both teams had good structure, you could really see across the board the one-on-one competitions, which you don’t usually see in the women’s game in the United States.”
San Diego struck first and ARPTC tied it up before halftime. The difference came from the lone score of the second stanza scored by reserve Beth Stratton, a soccer crossover.
“It just so happened that I subbed in at the right time a player from Arkansas, homegrown,” said McCoy, “and we got a penalty on their 10- meter and had some nice running lines. [Stratton] ran a little in-out line on Jessica Javelet and scored in the corner.”
The victory setup a rematch with Seattle in the final, another team with Eagle talent in the fold. This one was a little more stratified, as ARPTC took 14-0 and 21-5 leads in the first half. Seattle scratched out two late tries to flatter the final score line to 21-17, but the damage had been done. Jess Wooden, ARPTC's trusty conversion kicker, was named the MVP of the tournament.
“Jess, of course, made very tackle she had to make. In the final, it wasn’t so much the offense and scoring as many points as she usually does, it was a defensive game for Jess,” said McCoy. “So Jess got to showcase what she can do on that side, and it was compelling.”
The difference on the weekend for ARPTC was the effectiveness of its forwards.
“I think we’ve got the most competitive props in the country,” said McCoy. “Ashley Perry, originally from the Amazons, she was a boss. She led up front big time. She was making all kinds of tackles, creating all kinds of havoc in the contact area. Our second and third props, Abbie Vestal and Margaret Leonard, are just those mobile ballers.”
The ARPTC is an Olympic development program designed to put forth candidates for the national team. McCoy thinks several of her charges put their hands up for Eagle coach Ric Suggitt’s selection on the weekend, and there was a full staff aiding the effort, like former Eagles Ellie Karvoski and Laura Cabrera, who were part of the day-to-day coaching staff, and mental skills coach Madison Grey.
“Laura and Ellie are 46- and 40-years old and can still ball. When you’re an 18-year-old and you see a 46- and 40-year-old woman who can still ball, that’s motivating,” said McCoy.
“We have a strong mental skills program…It’s a novel approach to sports performance, or really high performance for anything, and [Grey] basically helped me manage the team in regards to keeping them in the zone.”
The win is a resounding one for the young ARPTC, which McCoy hopes will put some momentum behind her athletes as they endeavor to make the national team. Several of them will continue on that path in the coming weeks, playing for the U20s against Canada, trying out for the 7s All Americans and competing at Elite City 7s.
“If there’s something I know that Nigel [Melville] and Alex Magleby want, it’s they want competition, and they want to see who wins,” said McCoy. “If that’s what they want, that’s what we’re going to give them, so that’s what we did. Competition breeds success, got their memo, we’re in it.”