Monday, February 6, 2017

Ohio Elite Prepares to Pit Ohio's Ladies Against Best of Midwest and Beyond

On February 25, 2017, a group of Ohio's best young, female rugby players will converge for the first time as a team. Only a few weeks later, on April 1, the group will compete in its first tournament. This group is the U24 Ohio Elite side, and it has positioned young women from across the state to compete against top-tier rugby talent. This team didn't just come together overnight, though. The process of searching out and organizing these young ladies started in 2016, when two members of the Midwest Thunderbirds staff came together and had a conversation.

Last year, Jeff Horton was the Assistant Manager for the U24 Midwest Thunderbirds when Garrett Fisher, the U19 Coach at the time, asked him to take on the responsibility of running the Ohio Elite. With a skeleton crew by his side, Horton took up the challenge.

Now, the Ohio Elite staff is a Murderers' Row of specialized and knowledgeable talent from around the state. First, there is Bridgette Ford, who will be taking up the mantle of handling team logistics and nutrition. The sisters are staples on the scene and have worked extensively with the Ohio Elite side, not to mention a little club out west called the Glendale Raptors. Stoney Brooks will be implementing the team's defensive strategy and handling duties in the pack. Brooks has played an integral role in the renaissance of the Kent State University rugby scene, serving as Assistant Coach for the men in recent years. Hannah Henry will be in charge of getting the loose forwards and centers in top form. Henry's sevens experience in Calgary, Alberta Canada and on the Stars Rugby Sevens team makes her a fine fit to implant explosive speed into her players. Finally, Horton will implement the attack and bring it all together as the head coach. His rugby resume is a long and varied one, from Head Coach with the KSU women to Assistant Manager for the USA Women's National Team.

Once the coaching staff was created, it was time to convene the most important elements of the team: the players.

"When I was approached with this opportunity last year, there was a player pool of approximately ten to 12 players" Horton said. "Since I inherited the team about three or four weeks before the Midwest LAU Tournament, we sent out a blast email to all of the clubs in Ohio and asked them to nominate their best three to five players. Since we had an extremely limited time table, Brigitte and I decided to move forward with the first 26 players that accepted their invitations."

After soliciting more nominations from clubs around the state, the player pool grew and filled 75 of the one hundred slots Horton and his crew set up. After soliciting invitations and vetting the majority of the player pool, the final group of slots was left up for grabs to players not already in the pool. The idea was to allow interested players to earn their spot and prove their worth to the coaching staff.

"We all know all too well how big of a role politics in sport can play and this was our way of combating that," Horton said. "In our minds, every player deserves the opportunity to be seen if they want to compete at an elite level."

When the nominations, invitations, vetting and selections had finished, the one hundred-player pool got shaved down to 68-player tryout. From there 26 young ladies were selected for the team. According to Horton, the roster represents a balanced side; with backs that are fit, fast and able to move the ball effectively and forwards that are solid in set pieces and consistently looking for work on the field. Regardless of which team the players call home, there is one common thread between them all - a major deciding factor in who  made the final cut - and that is character. From one to 15, each player has a mentality that puts the team ahead of selfish ambition.

Horton, the Ohio Elite coaching staff, players at 2017 tryout.
"It would be impossible [for players] to make the team if we did not think they possessed good character," Horton said. When being vetted, 52 per cent of each player's evaluation took character into consideration. "To put it in rugby terms, we were looking for players that took more pride in making an assist, rather than scoring a try."

Once the roster was fixed, the difficult part began: getting the team field ready. The Ohio Elite roster is comprised, primarily, of ladies that play for Division II clubs or colleges, so getting everyone together to train stands to be a difficult proposition. The Ohio Elite coaching staff plans to be proactive in order to get everyone on the same page.

"In order to go through these practices as efficiently as possible, we have established a rather detailed strategy guide that is submitted to the players weeks in advance of their first assembly. This way, everyone has a general idea of what we are trying to accomplish as a team," Horton said. "We, generally, look to book a two-a-day training session once per month. We will also assemble a day prior to any tournament or match to go through a team walk-through and travel as a team."

The first test for the Ohio Elite team will be the D.C. Ruggerfest, followed by the Midwest LAU Championshpis. In these competitions, while winning is always nice, stacking up victories isn't the overall goal. The drive to be successful is inherent in the players already, so the grander focus of the team as a whole is to execute at the highest level possible.

"Sometimes you bring your A-game and you were simply outplayed by a better team. We want to avoid beating ourselves," Horton said. "So long as each player can confidently say that they not only gave it their all, but they also improved through the process, I would take pride in saying that we accomplished what we set out to do."

Naturally, the plan is to help the Ohio Elite team grow. Players that would like to be considered for future selection should contact Head Coach Horton directly with an email that includes the player's name, age positions, home club and overall experience level. A highlight reel and schedule of upcoming matches would also be helpful in the selection process.

Time will tell how the Ohio Elite team fares in its upcoming competitions. Horton will be distributing details and results as the season progresses in the hopes of growing the team's brand and via social media and other digital outlets. This site will have results as they are available and keep up to date on the progress of the Ohio Elite team.

No comments:

Post a Comment