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Last season was one of big change for the Women’s 7s Eagles. Ric Suggitt’s charges finished fourth in the inaugural Women’s 7s World Series in 2012/2013, and they took third at the 2013 7s World Cup in Russia. Then they plummeted to seventh on the circuit last season.
The disappointing results were swept under the rug, because it was widely known Suggitt was making moves to churn the player pool. He made a concerted effort to bring in new players, specifically crossover athletes. Lorrie Clifford, Jessica Javalet, Alev Kelter, Elana Meyers Taylor and Liz Sowers all earned their first caps last season as rugby rookies.
“We’re pretty supportive of Rick and what he’s trying to do. What’s nice about the women’s game is it’s relatively, at least on the 7s side, it’s relatively immature and open for opportunities like this,” said John Crowley, high performance director of team sports for the United States Olympic Committee.
“This is a strategy we try to apply to all of our different sports as well – are we being creative or innovative in the way that we recruit and develop and retain athletes for all of our sports? We are fully aware of what Rick’s goals are, we’re fully supportive of what Rick was trying to do. I think there are going to be some extraordinarily positive results that come out of the strategy he’s taken.”
Meyers Taylor is a perfect example of what Crowley was referring to. A college softball player, she was recruited into bobsled relatively late in her athletic career and became a two-time Olympian, winning bronze and silver medals. Then she picked up rugby.
Meyers Taylor is no longer with the Eagles, but Clifford, Javalet and Kelter, all DI athletes in sports other than rugby, are. Clifford played basketball at Western Oregon, Javalet played field hockey for Louisville and the US National Team, as well as American football, and Kelter played soccer and hockey for Wisconsin, as well as in the Team USA age-grade ranks. All three are on the team for Dubai this week. They’re joined by Melissa Fowler, a hardcourt teammate of Clifford’s at WOU.
Just like it is for the men, this World Series season is huge for the women. If the Eagles finish in the top four at the end of the season, they book their ticket to Rio. There are just six stops on the women’s tour – Dubai this weekend, Brazil, Atlanta, Canada, London and The Netherlands, so the time for Suggitt’s crossover initiative to garner wins is now.
“I don’t think they’re fully aware [of the pressure] yet," said Suggitt in a press release. "I think they’ll start to feel it once they start to play in international competitions. Once they start to play and get into Dubai and see where everyone’s at, they’ll really start to go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening. It’s happening right in front of my eyes. I better get going here.’”
A tough slate awaits the women in Dubai, with world favorite New Zealand, China and Russia in their pool.