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The second Julie McCoy era for the Women’s 7s team officially began in September when she took over for Ric Suggitt after his five years as head coach. Tomorrow, we get our first glimpse at her new team, as the opening leg of the Women’s World Series kicks off in Dubai.
Three months is longer than a blink of an eye, but perhaps not quite enough to uproot a coaching staff, implant another and get everyone on the same page. These things take time, and we’ll soon find enough if McCoy and her charges had a sufficient amont prior to the start of the season – they open with Ireland at 3:42 a.m., Fiji at 6:38 a.m. and Canada at 9:13 a.m. Thursday morning, ET.
“We’ve had a lot to transition through. Different coaching style from previous, different approach from previous, having to make some decisions on who fits that style, who fits the new regime, takes some time,” McCoy told Rugby Today.
“We wanted to make sure that all the players got their look, their chance, before we made any changes. So that was a process, just trying to see which of the staff in regards to getting that circle right and seeing who can play well together and who can't. That just takes some time, and we’ve done that. Now we’ll test ourselves and see where we’re at.”
It helped McCoy was familiar with much of the player pool. She’s known Jillian Potter and Kelly Griffin for years. She’d coached Alev Kelter and Kristen Thomas on a tour to Cancun. And several other players had spent some time at McCoy’s American Rugby Pro Training Center in Little Rock, Ark. She also brought in some players she knew very little of, but McCoy seems confident her team will be in it with a chance this weekend.
“I think we have the athletes to be competitive in every game that we play. My goal is to have a good start. With some of the new players put in this position, and then the new approach to our game, I want to have a good start. That’s really my goal for this,” said the coach.
“Now, how far the girls take it through the tournament is truly up to them. They’ll make the decision themselves on whether they want to continue to progress throughout the tournament. I’m curious to see how they do, and I’m completely supportive and actually love every player to death that’s on the Dubai team and those that are staying home. They’re hard workers, and we’ll see what happens.”
The team will be led by captain Jillian Potter, who is just 16 months removed from being diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma. She’s cancer-free now and, according to McCoy, back and ready to be the badass Team USA fans all remember.
“There wouldn’t be a player at the OTC that wouldn’t agree that Jill should have been selected to be in Dubai,” said McCoy of her captain.
“To be honest, this is not cliché, she’s a miraculous, inspirational person. Who wouldn’t want to follow that? All the other sacrifices and conditions seem to pale in comparison to what Jill Potter has gone through.
“The fact that Jill came back, has been working hard, really, really hard here at the OTC to get back to form, and in fact try to go above form, is a testament to her parents. Whoever instilled this kind of work ethic, this kind of attitude, should be commended. Everything else is not important when you’ve been through what Jill’s been through. She deserves to be on this team.”
Also returning is Jessica Javelet, the lightning fast football and field hockey convert who left the team following last season’s Atlanta tournament after she was benched by Suggitt for shoddy defense. Her attacking prowess has never been in question, though, and McCoy thinks that outweighs any defensive deficiencies.
“I didn’t choose to put her on this team because she was one of the best defenders. I chose to put her on the team because she will finish, and she loves to finish, and when she’s in space she’ll finish. So, her defense has to be good enough, and when she’s in an environment when she’s safe and supported, I think she will thrive,” said McCoy.
“I have some other players who are similar, and we’ve had to change our defensive system quite a bit since we came in, and that part of our game is a work in progress, so as long as JJ or anybody else starts making progress, that’s what we’re looking for. But, it’s very clear to J.J. what her role is. Clarity is really, really important. She knows exactly why she’s on this team that’s going to Dubai. Hopefully she’ll put her eggs in that basket.”
An international rookie who many in the women’s game think has a chance to make an immediate impact is Nia Williams. The Chicago-area native and Eastern Illinois product will make her World Series debut this weekend.
“Nia’s very shifty. Nia’s an all-purpose player. She can finish. She can create. She can tackle. I can probably play her in almost every position on the field except maybe prop, although I think she’d probably say she’d do that, too,” said McCoy.
“She will struggle some in Dubai. I mean, it’s hard to know what that pressure’s like until you jump into it, so my expectations for her are that she’s going to feel her way and figure out what her role’s going to be once she jumps into the pool.
“It’s not a pond she’s jumping into, it’s an ocean. Swimming in a pond is one thing. Swimming in an ocean is different, so you’ve got to figure out how to ocean swim. We feel like she’s going to swim in the ocean. It’s going to take her some time to get used to it, so we need to be patient with her, like anybody we put in that position, but she’s worked tirelessly here. She has the support of the players around her, and I’m very, very curious to see how she rolls and I’m happy for her.”
All of the women's action from Dubai will be streamed live at Worldrugby.org