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CHULA VISTA, CA - The Women's Sevens Eagles will be back on the pitch for the first stop of the 2017-18 HSBC Women's Sevens World Series next week, in the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens Tournament beginning Nov. 30. With a scrimmage against the Argentinians in San Diego under their belts, the Americans are prepared to make a strong showing on Day One as they take veterans of international play and new talent to Pool A's competitive matchups.
Head Coach Richie Walker found the opportunity to practice against an international squad valuable for the team's preparation going into the Series. The scrimmage coupled with a combination of new and experienced athletes gives the Eagles a comprehensive path towards their development as tournament competitors.
"Playing Argentina was great," said Walker. "Playing someone other than ourselves with four girls making their debuts and three having only played in one tournament each, means our squad has a lot of opportunity to grow."
Complimenting fresh faces, the United States' Dubai bound force is highlighted with players who impressed audiences around the world last series. Returner Naya Tapper will look to shine once again, finishing her last go-around as 2nd overall in tries with 32, including a thrilling score which clinched the United States' victory against Fiji during the Series stop in Las Vegas last march.
Walker's crew will also include veteran Alev Kelter who suits up for the Eagles with her fourth consecutive HSBC Series start, continuing her tradition of never missing a tournament since her 2014 debut at Guangzhou Sevens. Joining Kelter with her own experience in global play is Ryan Carlyle (Seattle Saracens) who, like her teammate, was selected to be part of Team USA's 12-player squadron for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
Along with his veteran players, Walker makes note of the experience in staff that made a difference in his squad's overall advancement; principally, with Assistant Coach Jarrod Faul.
"It has been great to have Jarrod Faul on as a part time assistant coach to help us prepare for Dubai. He has won three national championships in two years and most recently, a 3rd place finish with the San Diego Surfers," noted Walker.
Though he won't make the trip, Faul served as an important piece in the construction of a competitive Eagles team that will challenge their opposition.
The Women's Sevens finished the 2016-17 HSBC Series ranked in the Top 5 for overall points (646), tries (106) and conversions (58). Following their 6th place finish in the final standings, the U.S. will look to make an immediate impact by earning their second consecutive win against France who finished last series just two points behind the Americans in 7th place.
A clash against South Africa will be second on deck for the Eagles who look to take their well-prepared and focused mentality into a final pool play matchup with the four-time defending champion Black Ferns.
The Emirates Airline Dubai Women's Sevens Tournament kicks off at 4:28 AM ET on Nov. 30 for USA's first match against France, broadcast live on The Rugby Channel, with updates available by following @USARugby on Twitter.
"Going into Dubai is exciting," described Walker. "It will be great for our group to show what we can do."
WOMEN'S EAGLES SEVENS ROSTER | Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens
1. Jordan Gray
2. Ryan Carlyle
3. Sara Parsons
4. Nicole Heavirland (C)
5. Tia Blythe
6. Alev Kelter
7. Naya Tapper
8. Abby Gustaitis
9. Kelsi Stockert
10. Sarah Buonopane
11. Kiki Morgan
12. Megan Foster
WOMEN'S EAGLES SEVENS STAFF | Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens
Head Coach - Richie Walker
Athletic Trainer - Sarah Leslie
Physical Preparation - Ian Gibbons
Team Manager - Leanna Corpus
Analyst - Dave Gardner