Women’s rugby sends four to National All-Star Competition

by Ray Lu | 1/3/16 9:14pm

This past winter break, four members of the Dartmouth women’s rugby team participated in the National All-Star Competition. Co-captain Yejadai Dunn ’16, Audrey Perez ’17, Milla Anderson ’19, and Kat Ramage ’19 received invitations to compete at Tigertown in South Florida from Dec. 28 through Jan. 3.

“The National All-Star Competition, or NASC, is a pathway created by USA Rugby to centralize selections for national teams,” Dunn said. “It’s kind of a more clear pathway to get noticed by coaches.”

The coaches of national women’s rugby teams, Dartmouth women’s rugby head coach Katie Dowty said, selected the 215 athletes participating in this winter’s NASC. The coaches and the players are part of the Women’s National Team Pathway, a program that recognizes high performance in women’s rugby and accelerates player development for international competition.

“They take people with good character and athleticism who have stood out during their regular season,” Dowty said.

Former Dartmouth men’s rugby head coach Alex Magleby ’00 was appointed director of performance at USA Rugby in spring of 2014, expanding his role as national director of sevens. Magelby now oversees development including these rugby programs.

Participants in the NASC are divided into eight teams under three age groups. Participants of the Emerging Coach Development Program coach two Under-20 teams, two Under-23 teams and four senior teams. The senior team is dedicated to more experienced post-college female rugby players. These teams train together and play in games.

“It’s basically a collection of the high-performing, elite rugby players, specifically female rugby players,” Perez said. “We train throughout the week, two-a-days.”

High performance at NASC increases chances for athletes to be selected onto national teams, such as the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 and Women’s Eagles Sevens squads.

“You kind of just play here,” Dunn said. “Most of the coaches for those [national] teams are here. So if they notice you, they’ll [be more likely] to invite you onto one of their teams.”

For the players, the day starts at 5:30 a.m., when athletes wake up and get ready to leave. Participants see the medical staff and get taped up and ready for the day.

“We have a practice preview,” Perez said. “Basically we get a debrief of the objectives for practice and stuff. And then we go train.”

Perez added that her routine basically consisted of eating, sleeping, and training.

“Making new friends and making new connections has been really cool,” Dunn said. “I went to the last NASC in Colorado last August. It’s just cool to meet up with new people but also friends you made last time and just keep that connection strong throughout the rugby community because that’s really important.”

Dunn was one of 55 student-athletes to be named a USA Rugby Women’s Collegiate All-American for 2014-15. Perez was recovering from a recent anterior ligament tear and said she was surprised to receive the invite to the winter’s NASC.

“It was my first season back from an ACL tear,” Perez said. “They say you don’t feel [like] yourself your first season back, and that was actually pretty accurate. I didn’t feel that great about my performance this season.”

Perez received an e-mail invitation for the National All-Star Competition, but initially thought the message was spam. She finally accepted her invitation when Dowty called to ask why she hadn’t accepted it yet.

“Being surrounded by a lot of high level players — I’m being pushed in a really different way and I’m learning a lot, so that’s really refreshing,” Perez said.

Anderson and Ramage are both first-year student-athletes and made enough of an impact to catch the attention of coaches for the national team.

Anderson started playing rugby this term, but was a varsity athlete in four different sports in high school. Ramage played soccer and track in high school, but also captained several elite high school rugby teams, including squads that won back-to-back National Rugby Sevens Championships in 2013 and 2014.

The women’s rugby team went undefeated in League play this past fall and claimed the Ivy League Championship in the sport’s inaugural varsity season. All four players started the entire season for this year’s squad.

“[The selection of Dunn, Perez, Anderson, and Ramage] is a testament to the level of athletes we have in our rugby program,” Dowty said. “They have all been identified as potential athletes on the national team. They’re starting out on the pathway at an early age which is great for our program.”