Rugby News & Views From an American Perspective
After a strong week of practice, the USA Sevens team has been named for the next leg of the IRB Sevens World Series. The squad heads off to Adelaide, Australia for the first tournament and will then compete in the world famous Hong Kong Sevens.
Head Coach Al Caravelli has whittled down a group of nineteen players into twelve. The most important factor being that the team is reaching new heights in terms of consistency in their lineup. After playing years with a seemingly revolving lineup at each leg of the IRB Series, Caravelli, and USA fans, should be excited about the prospects.
“I’m extremely pleased that we have nine of the players who were in Las Vegas on this tour, and that Mark Bokhoven joins the squad back from injury,” Caravelli said. “That gives us ten players who have played in the series thus far this season. That is huge for us. That experience is invaluable and doesn’t come our way too often.”
Squad consistency has been a key factor in the team’s resurgence after a rough start in the IRB Series. In the last two legs of the series, the USA won the Shield title in Wellington, New Zealand and collected the Bowl title in Las Vegas. The Bowl title also came with the USA’s first IRB Series points of the season.
Now that the ice has been broken, the USA will look to seal their status as a “core” member of the IRB Series. Picking up points in Adelaide and/or Hong Kong will go a long way towards reaching that goal.
“The preparation has been outstanding this week in all aspects of the game. The players are chomping at the bit to play England next Friday night,” Caravelli added in reference to the USA’s opening match in Australia which takes place March 19th.
The nine returning players to the squad are Captain Kevin Swiryn, Vice-Captain Matt Hawkins, Nese Malifa, Nick Edwards, Zach Test, Paul Emerick, Marco Barnard, Shalom Suniula, and Leonard Peters.
Mark Bokhoven also makes his return to the team after battling injuries early in the series. One of the most gifted athletes in the squad, Bokhoven is a welcome and experienced addition to the team.
New to the team is former Missouri football star Tommy Saunders, who proved to be the fittest player at camp. Saunders registered an impressive fourteen on the beep test. For those of you out there that have been through a beep test, you know what it takes. For everyone else, trust me… it is beyond difficult.
“We have never had a football player without rugby experience crush the beep test the way he did,” Caravelli said. “He is still learning the game, but he makes up for his lack of experience with his athleticism.”
Also new to the team is Zach Pangelinan, who played in four IRB Sevens tournaments last season, but until now had yet to make this season’s tour squad.
“He (Pangelinan) has also come back with renewed energy and seriousness. You can tell he has matured and that he wants to represent the USA more than ever,” Caravelli added.
“I am thrilled with the level of focus every athlete brought to every field training, weight room and video sessions,” Caravelli finished. “They were switched on 100 percent every aspect of the way. It was a pleasure to see their professional attitude and how each of them continued to push each other. This has to be our best camp in those regards. The players really took to heart the phrase of ‘raising the bar!’ They did it everyday and continue to really push each other to higher levels.”
This time last year, the USA Sevens team anchored by the likes of Todd Clever, Chris Wyles, Takuzdwa Ngwenya, and James Gillenwater began to disband leaving the team to limp through the final two legs of the IRB Series. The finish left many wondering how long it would take for the USA to rebuild. After all, that team took almost three years to come together.
The slow start to the season reinforced many of those worries, but Caravelli has forged ahead putting together a tight knit group of players capable of competing with the best in the world.
Now comes the really hard part. The promise and potential of a young squad has begun to turn the corner towards success as the team transforms from underdog to darkhorse.
The pressure is on.
USA Sevens Squad for Australia & Hong Kong
Barnard, Marco (Kutztown)
Bokhoven, Mark (Denver Barbarians)
Edwards, Nick (NYAC)
Emerick, Paul (Parma)
Hawkins, Matt (Belmont Shore) [Vice Captain]
Malifa, Valenese (Belmont Shore)
Pangelinan, Zach (OMBAC)
Peters, Leonard (Aspen)
Saunders, Tommy (KC Blues)
Suniula, Shalom (Pearl City)
Swiryn, Kevin (Old Puget Sound Beach) [Captain]
Test, Zach (Loughborough)