Stanford's Richardson part of U20 national rugby team


The USA Rugby AIG Women's Junior All-Americans, which include Stanford's Nikki Richardson, have assembled in Buffalo, N.Y., to prepare for the U20 Can-Am Series in Ontario.

Runners-up to the Canadians at the 2013 U20 Nations Cup in England, the WJAAs held two regional camps this spring in Greeley, Colo., and Harrisonburg, Va., in conjunction with the AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans.

Nikki Richardson/Stanford Women's Rugby
The WCAAs recently returned from their trip to Canada with an undefeated, 2-0 record against the Ontario Storm.

The WJAAs lost twice in four matches at Nations Cup last year, both to Canada. Gabriella Cantorna is the only returning player from the competition selected for the 2014 tour, though Maya Learned was a non-traveling reserve for Danielle Miller's squad.

"From last year's Nations Cup we did have a large percentage of the players age out of the program," Miller said. "We're almost on a two-year cycle with the Nations Cup being every other year as our big event, so we keep an eye on that when we are looking at players' eligibility. We use these kind of 'off years' as an opportunity to get some more experience for some of the younger players so that we will have an experienced squad when we go to Nations Cup next year."

Following the regional camps at the University of Northern Colorado and James Madison University, Miller attended the Stars and Stripes Camp in July.

Ten of the 26 players named to the WJAA tour squad attended this year's Camp, while 14 in all have attended one or both of the high school events. The athletes in Greeley ranged from the ages of 15 to 18, perfect for selection to the WJAAs.

"I was very lucky to be a part of Stars and Stripes this year and I used that as a selection tool," Miller said. "Being able to see some of the younger players that have not come up through the ranks any other way was a great opportunity and we took full advantage of that by inviting several of the players."

Most of the players selected from Stars and Stripes will be eligible for next year's Nations Cup, while others, like 15-year-old Lilly Durbin, will be too young for the tournament.

"[Lilly will be too young still, but we'll use the tour as a developmental opportunity for her to be able to get more international experience," Miller said. "It will help her in her rugby career, because she's got great potential."

Other players, like Ashlee Byrge, Mata Hingano, Hedvig Karlsson, and Fina Toetu'u, have taken the opportunity to train in a high performance environment at the Stars and Stripes Camps, and Miller is offering the next step in the pathway.

"Our overall goal is to look at all of the players who are selected to participate in the tour and to hopefully grow their understanding of the game and their decision-making," Miller said.

The WJAAs will train in Buffalo before the first match of the U20 Can-Am Series at London St. George's Rugby Football Club on Wednesday.

The team will remain in Ontario until the end of the second and final match of the Series on Saturday.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/USA Rugby

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