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The U20s are encamped in Casa Grande, Ariz. through Tuesday, with 52 players hoping to earn selection to the Junior All-American side set to face Canada Feb. 13 in Austin, Texas. The game will act as a curtain raiser for the Americas Rugby Championship bout between the two countries’ senior sides, and the winner advances to the Junior World Trophy set for Zimbabwe in April. Last year, it was a two-game series between the USA and Canada for the right to compete in the JWT, and Canada won both contests north of the border.
Besides the format and some of the names, not much has changed for the Junior All-Americans – there is a talented and dedicated coaching staff working very hard to find, select and train the best possible crop of players to represent the USA on the international stage. And there are some really talented young players hoping to take the next step towards the senior national team.
Unfortunately, those are virtually the only positive constants, as the U20s are again fighting an uphill battle of instability in the coaching staff, very little assembly time and a lack of access to the full assault of the best 18-to-20 year olds in the country.
For the second-straight year, the U20s had a new coach step down before coaching a single match. Last year, Billy Millard was named the head coach before leaving, and Michael Engelbrecht stepped in as interim for the program’s two contests.
This year, Scott Lawrence, who led the MJAAs to the JWT title back in 2012, was named the head coach in August. He stepped down before even assembling with the team, because of work obligations for his full-time job, and now interim head coach JD Stephenson is at the helm.
Lawrence, along with Engelbrecht, is assisting Stephenson. So the instability within the coaching ranks is being handled about as well as could be expected, but the machine is far from well-oiled.
Again, as has been the case for several years, players from some of the top programs in the country are not participating. Cal, BYU and St. Mary’s, generally accepted as the three best programs in the nation, have no players in camp. Central Washington also has no one in the mix.
Some coaches discourage or prohibit their players from participating in call-ups during the school year, as it not only pulls them away from their studies, but also their teams, midseason. This is not a new development, but noteworthy whenever discussing the All Americans.
A second camp will be held in January, giving players who’ve been unavailable or haven’t been looked at yet a chance to be evaluated.
The current camp is made up of players from across the country, mostly from the college ranks. However, some club, overseas, and even high school players, have been brought in.
Ruben de Haas, just a junior in high school, has earned a call-up. The talented Little Rock Junior Stormers (AR) scrumhalf, son of former South African provincial standout Pieter de Haas, played with the U17 All-Americans on their tour of France earlier this year. Center William Fifita of the Aurora Saracens (CO) and prop Roman Salanoa of Hawaii’s Kahuku are other high school representatives.
There are a number of club players, too, like prop Sone Faitau of the Kansas City Islanders, Zach Haley of Metropolis, Ovalati Moala of Life West, Daniel Moore of Belmont Shore, King Dazeem Stevenson of 1823, Austin Taefu of the Tempe Old Devils and Veuki Taumoefolau of the Las Vegas Irish.
Overseas prospects include Dan Hostetler of the University of Cardiff and Will Ben Sims of Trinity College in Dublin. Sims is a talented product of the Kansas City Jr. Blues high school program.
The duration of the January camp is unknown, but the current gathering is just three-days-long, and the likelihood is the exact group of players set to compete in February may not even convene until the week of the match. So assembly time for this developmental team is again extremely short, especially if the MJAAs fall in Austin and fail to secure a World Trophy berth.
|Malon Al-Jiboori||Lindenwood University||Lock||1997|
|Steven Branham||University of Arizona||Hooker||1997|
|Israel Brown||Lee University||Prop||1997|
|Evan Clark||University of Colorado||Scrum Half||1996|
|Makai Clearwater||Utah Valley University||Flanker||1997|
|Ruben de Haas||Little Rock Junior Stormers||Scrum Half||1998|
|Samuel Devine||Kutztown University||Flanker||1996|
|Dustin Dowers||Lindenwood University||Prop||1996|
|Sone Faitau||Kansas City Islanders||Prop||1996|
|Brennan Falcon||Louisiana State University||Flanker||1996|
|Conor Fay||Virginia Tech||Center||1996|
|William Fifita||Rangeview High School||Center||1997|
|Jeremy Fleet||University of Arizona||Wing||1997|
|Sean Gannon||Indiana University||Prop||1997|
|Aaron Gray||Wheeling Jesuit University||Wing||1997|
|Zachary Haley||Metropolis Rugby||Hooker||1997|
|Brian Hannon||University of Arizona||Fly Half||1996|
|Travis Heer||Lindenwood University||Wing||1997|
|Dan Hostetler||University of Cardiff, Wales||Hooker||1997|
|Carter Hunchik||Life University||Prop||1997|
|Jihad Khabir||American International College||Fly Half||1996|
|Nick Kwasniewski||Grand Canyon University||Prop||1996|
|Kyle Makaiwi||Utah Valley University||Fly Half||1997|
|Aedan Mangan||University of Dayton||Center||1996|
|Jesse Mendenhall||San Diego State University||Lock||1997|
|Deion Mikesell||Lindenwood University||Wing||1997|
|Ovalati Moala||Life West||Number 8||1996|
|Conner Mooneyham||Life University||Center||1996|
|Daniel Moore||Belmont Shore Rugby||Wing||1997|
|Joseph O'Shields||Kutztown University||Fly Half||1996|
|Richard Parker||San Diego State University||Fullback||1996|
|Mason Pedersen||University of Arizona||Prop||1996|
|Darien Pickett||Grand Canyon University||Prop||1996|
|Thomas Rippert||Clemson University||Prop||1996|
|Cristian Rodriguez||Lindenwood University||Fullback||1997|
|Roman Salanoa||Kahuku High School||Prop||1997|
|Angel Santiago||Kutztown University||Flanker||1997|
|Nathaniel Short||Arizona State University||Wing||1996|
|Will Ben Sims||Trinity College Dublin||Center||1996|
|Lui Sitama||American International College||Center||1996|
|Tyler Sousley||University of Arizona||Wing||1996|
|King Dazem Stevenson||1823||Flanker||1996|
|Austin Taefu||Tempe Old Devils||Scrum Half||1996|
|Veuki Taumoefolau||Las Vegas Irish||Number 8||1997|
|Lorenzo Thomas||Lindenwood University||Center||1997|
|Cameron Troxler||Louisiana State University||Fly Half||1997|
|Duncan Van Schalkwyk||Life University||Fly Half||1996|
|Alexander Walsh||Arizona State University||Fly Half||1996|
|Dante Weeks||University of Arizona||Wing||1996|
|Chance Wenglewski||Lindenwood University||Prop||1997|
|Mitchell Wilson||Life University||Fullback||1996|
|Bruce Yun||California State University||Prop||1996|