Thanks to everyone for the effort and hard work the last couple of months. This year’s team selection has been the most difficult of all for the coaches; there were many talented athletes to choose from. The teams selected for the 2017 Las Vegas Invitational tournament are:
Stephanie Browne – Orlando
Stephanie Nevadunsky – Fort Miami
Jaqueline Edge – University of Central Florida
Brittany Broomfield – Florida International University
Leandria Ates – Florida International University
Cortney Kuehl – University of Central Florida
Jessica Warner – University of Central Florida
Ashaunte Stroman – Florida International University
Jennifer Fasano – University of Central Florida
Tatum Walker – Fort Miami
Agnes Fuerst – University of Central Florida
Amanda Divich – Unattached (formerly Lindenwood University)
David Washington – Jacksonville RFC
Jeffrey Herron – Tampa Krewe
Mateo Velazquez – Florida International University
Damien Clemente – Miami RFC
Cagney Kobrin – Unattached (formerly Miami 7’s)
Malacchi Esdale – University of Central Florida
Tristan Dignan – University of Central Florida
Tyler Pigott – Naples Hammerheads
Scott Watson – University of Central Florida
Eddie Abreu – Orlando
Roderigus Ceasar – Unattached (formerly Narooma Devils, Rugby League Australia)
Santiago Laphitzondo – Florida International University
To be the best, you have to beat the best. And while they weren’t able to notch a win, the Florida High Performance Sevens squad enjoyed an unforgettable and humbling experience at IMG Academy on Saturday, October 28.
Some of the best rugby sevens players from across the Sunshine State gathered in Bradenton to take on Canada’s national sevens side in a quartet of incredibly fast-paced touch matches.
Facing international stars like John Moonlight, Nathan Hirayama and Harry Jones, the 23 Floridians got a first-hand glimpse at the level of professionalism, focus and talent it takes to compete for a spot on an Olympic-quality side.
Though the Florida HPP team failed to dot down a try on the afternoon, players and coaches gained invaluable insight from the nearly two hours of rugby played on one of IMG Academy’s pristine practice pitches.
While the Canadian side obviously boasted better chemistry, fitness and overall skill, they were incredibly down to earth throughout the weekend. Despite being guests themselves at the IMG Academy campus, the Canadians showed great hospitality and sportsmanship in allowing the Florida players to utilize IMG’s state-of-the-art ice baths and training room. In addition, Moonlight and Jones delivered words of wisdom to the aspiring Florida ruggers and even threw in some free Canada team shirts as a token of appreciation for everyone who made the trip.
“We had a squad that got thrown together at the last minute,” said Florida Director of 7’s Steve Braunstein. “A lot of our players are just normal guys who volunteer their own time. However, we’re trying to get our program to compete with the best people in the world.”
The combination of Braunstein and Ronnie Suarez—who also coaches at Florida International University—has catapulted the state’s sevens program to new heights.
“In only two years we’ve been able to put together a program that’s been able to play at a high level,” explained Braunstein. “We have fared very well against Olympic Development Academies across the country out in Vegas, including beating Arizona, Utah and Ohio.”
One player who has been instrumental in transforming the program into a legitimate contender is Jeff Herron. The mechanical designer engineer first picked up a rugby ball in 2005 while attending the University of South Florida, and he’s continued his playing career with Tampa Bay Krewe since 2009.
Herron has been a staple within the Florida HPP 7’s program since 2014 and has been able to play against top-level competition such as Mexico’s national sevens team. Even for an experienced player like Herron, the showdown against Canada was truly eye opening.
“Canada’s pace of play was incredible,” Herron said. “I felt that we matched up with them fairly well in speed. They definitely had us on man-for-man size, but their pace of play was really the difference. Their breakdowns were secured and over with in the blink of an eye.”
While the scoreboard didn’t fall in Florida’s favor, the chance to play a world-class side at a world-class facility was a welcomed treat for players who often have to pay their own way while working typical day jobs.
“Any opportunity to play against a high level opponent is a chance to test ourselves and also to improve,” Herron said. “There is so much to learn from these matches and the more we are exposed to that level, the sooner we as a group will be able to compete and play at that level. Players with this kind of experience will learn, improve, and then have the chance to take that knowledge back to their club and share that with their local teammates.”
It is with great enthusiasm the Florida Rugby Union and 7’s High Performance Program wish Stephanie Browne the best of luck on her invitation to the Rugby Women’s 7s Academy Camp June 15-June 19 at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA.
The 2016 USA Women’s Olympic team will be chosen from this camp and we look forward to Stephanie performing like she did in Las Vegas Invitations against France & Japan. Those efforts earned her this opportunity and the FRU HPP program will continue to provide venues like this for our Florida rugby athletes to showcase their abilities.
On the men’s side, the battle for the 12 exclusive spots came down to the wire, but head coach Ronnie Suarez is confident that this year’s team has what it takes to make a significant splash in Vegas. With players from both the college and men’s ranks, it’s clear the overall talent level across the state has improved dramatically from just a year ago.
Representing FRU in Las Vegas will be:
Joe DiGregorio – Brevard
Damian Clemente – Miami RFC
Jeffrey Herron – Tampa Krewe
Jonathan Halter – Gainesville
Adrian Salazar – Miami RFC
Mateo Velazquez – Florida International University (FIU)
Alex Vinkavich – Miami Tridents
Jude Kermundu – Naples
Nick Daniel – Florida International University (FIU)
Hank May – Gainesville
Tyler Piggot – Naples
Matthew Coore – Indian River
In addition, the six non-traveling reserves for the men’s side include:
Isaac Leite – University of Florida (UF)
Adrian White – Fort Lauderdale
Paul Diaz – Orlando
Dewayne Parks Jr. – Brevard
Julius Fletcher – Treasure Coast
Barrington McNutt – Florida International University (FIU)
The FRU is also pleased to announce the women’s side that looks to shock a stacked pool of international sides in Vegas. Representing Florida for the women are:
Leandria Ates – FIU Womens Rugby
Ashley Bengston – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
Stephanie Browne – Phoenix Rugby 7s
Cassidy Davis – Orlando Womens Rugby
Jacqueline Edge – UCF Womens Rugby
Agnes Fuerst – UCF Womens Rugby
Vivian Junger Silveira – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
Shannon Steele – Orlando Womens Rugby
Corntey Kuehl – UCF Womens Rugby
Zoe Sanchez-O’Neill – Orlando Womens Rugby
Jesenia Torres – Orlando Womens Rugby
Tatum Walker – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
Jessica Warner of UCF and Lindsey Koren of UF Womens Rugby were selected to play but are unavailable due to injury.
Congratulations to all the players selected to represent Florida rugby at the LVI. We look forward to watching you put your talent on display at the top rugby sevens competition in the United States.