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CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Four Olympians, including Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games captain Kelly Griffin, have been named to Richie Walker's Women's Eagles Sevens squad for HSBC Sydney7s, the second round of the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series.
Beantown Rugby's Sarah Buonopane is set to debut on the Series for the U.S., which is coming off of an 11th-place finish at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens to start the season. The Eagles will again be grouped with Russia in Pool C in Australia, along with England and Spain. Walker's side's campaign kicks off Thursday, Feb. 2, on the American east coast (Friday in Australia), with the live broadcast available for free via The Rugby Channel.
Griffin recently attended the Women's Eagles National All-Star Competition in Florida as the XVs program prepares for this year's Women's Rugby World Cup, and has been training on her own away from the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. She was also named head coach of the women's program at USA Rugby National Development Academy Santa Barbara Rugby Academy. The most-capped Eagle on the Series with 18 tournament appearances, Griffin has been an integral member of the squad in and out of competition.
"Even though she's no longer a resident, she came into camp in good shape and had the right attitude to get the job done," Walker said. "She works hard remotely, which is tough, but just proves hard work does pay off."
Following her first international sevens try in Rio de Janeiro last summer, Ryan Carlyle opened her Series account with two scored in Dubai in December, capping off a 2016 calendar campaign that included steady performances at each Series stop. Alev Kelter, seventh in points scored at Rio 2016 and 12th on the circuit in 2015-16, and Joanne Fa'avesi, in her eighth tournament with the team, round out the Olympians in the squad. Olympic reserve Nicole Heavirland, as well as Naya Tapper and 2016 Women's Premier League Champion Kate Zackary, also return from Dubai.
Kristen Thomas suffered an injury in the final leg of the 2015-16 season that kept her out Olympic contention, and convened with Walker ahead of the 2016-17 kickoff to discuss her availability for Dubai. Opting to stay out of the team as a precautionary measure in the final stages of recovery, Thomas is now fit to represent her country on the Series again.
Of the five debutantes named to the Dubai team, Kayla Canett and Olympic reserve Cheta Emba earn consecutive selections. Emba also scored her first try on the circuit, while Canett held up one in the try zone to highlight her defensive performance. Buonopane, an AIG Women's Collegiate All-American in the summer, joined Old Blue of New York at the 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships, where she was named to the tournament Dream Team in a runners-up campaign.
"I'm glad Kris is back as she will make an impact to our team," Walker said. "Sarah has come to the last three camps and just continues to improve. She trained well all week and had a great scrimmage. She is another one that works hard and deserves it.
"I'm excited for this tour and what this team can do. I would like to thank everyone who helps and supports our team."
The Eagles will look to improve their Series standing in Sydney, with the women's event reaching Australian shores for the first time. Third- and fourth-place finishers in Dubai, Russia and England, respectively, will offer the U.S. its first challenges at Allianz Stadium Feb. 2 (U.S. time). The tournament can be viewed live on The Rugby Channel, while live match updates will be provided via USA Rugby's Twitter account (@USARugby).
Women's Eagles Sevens | HSBC Sydney7s
1. Cheta Emba
2. Kristen Thomas
3. Kelly Griffin
4. Ryan Carlyle
5. Nicole Heavirland
6. Alev Kelter
7. Naya Tapper
8. Kate Zackary
9. Joanne Fa'avesi
10. Kayla Canett
11. Hope Rogers
12. Sarah Buonopane