Thursday, April 6, 2017

Getting to Know the Elite Team Leaders

In rugby, leadership matters. When that team is going up against some of the best talent in the country, putting the proper people at the helm is a crucial decision. Alexis Beach and Cynthia Campbell took up that mantle over the weekend at the DC Furies’ annual Ruggerfest tournament. For these co-captains, the pressure the feat of making the Elite Team was just the start. They had to bring a group of strong players together and bring the best out of each player to put the best possible product on the field.
Alexis Beach (left) after a match with her home
club, Akron.
Like the other players on the team, making the Elite Team was the culmination of years of hard work with a multitude of teams around the state.

“Making the Elite team is a privilege and an honor,” Beach said. “It’s extremely gratifying to know that the past eight years of hard work and dedication I have put in have been worth something.”

Beach got her start on the rugby field in her sophomore year of high school; and during her time with the sport she has played a variety of positions. At times, Beach has found herself as a loose forward, playing no. eight or flanker. Other times, she has made her mark in the back line at outside center. Wherever she was needed, that was where she played. When the Elite Team traveled to Ruggerfest, Beach took her place in the engine room - the tight five of the pack – as hooker.

Campbell, Beach’s Co-Captain, was no stranger to the Ohio Elite system when she was named to the lineup and given her leadership role. She was freshly into her high school career when her skills as an inside center were utilized by the U19 team. Since then, Campbell acquired valuable experience, playing at different levels for a variety of strong teams. Campbell can normally be found blitzing the midfield as one of the centers or taking control of the backline as a flyhalf.

I first started playing rugby in spring of 2012 for Hudson High School,” she said. “I graduated from the Ohio State University in 2016, where I played for four years. Now, I play for the Scioto Valley Squirrels 15s side and the W1823 sevens side in the Columbus area. After playing my first season of high school rugby, I was scouted to play on the U19 Ohio Elite team. Since then, I have taken the opportunity to play for the U23 Ohio Elite teams throughout college; and I am excited to continue being a part of this year’s team that seeks to play even tougher competition.”

Cynthia Campbell running the ball with W1823.

Being named captain of any team carries with it a lot of responsibility. Taking up that mantle on the Elite Team carries a bit more gravitas because of what the team means to the women taking the field. For many, the team stands as an open door to higher levels of the sport in an otherwise bleak environment; and this is a fact that’s not lost on the captains.

“I have always wanted to advance my rugby career, but never had the means or avenues needed, or knew how to go about doing that,” Beach said. “Before I moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania, no one could lead me in the right direction.”

It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she attended a USA Rugby camp in New Jersey. According to Beach, the Elite Team proved to be a better opportunity in an, undoubtedly, more convenient location. The exposure to the wider rugby community is the primary benefit for the ladies on the team.

A set of strong leaders is nothing without a corps of strong people to take into battle, and the women of the Elite Team certainly provide that for Beach and Campbell. For Beach, the fact that everyone came to the team with a strong rugby foundation separates it from the normal rugby experience. Time that would be usually dedicated to teaching the basics could be, instead, used to install more advanced tactics and skills. For Campbell, it’s the promise that the players show puts the Ohio Elite on another level.

“The most beautiful tries are scored when everyone on the team had a key part to play,” Campbell said. “I look forward most to seeing these tries be put together against the competition. We have the character on this team to do great things, and I can’t wait to see it happen. I hope to set my teammates up for success. From communication to action, I hope that we all can grow together to be better leaders and teammates back on our home squads.”

While at Ruggerfest, the team had a taste of the promise come to fruition. After a slow start to the tournament, the Elite Team rebounded to end the weekend in strong fashion. In the opening set of matches, the ladies fell to Raleigh and Life. In its final match on Sunday, the Elite Team took a 22-point win over the SHARCS.

As the team works together more, the plan is that play will smooth out and result in more success on the field. Now, whether that is a slow process or a quick turn-around, the leaders of the team are optimistic about the experiences that lie ahead.

“I think that competing is where the fun will be. I enjoy being on the pitch and I’m sure the rest of the team does as well,” Beach said. “I look forward to making memories with this talented group of women. I enjoy traveling and even the training.”

“Every time I go on a tour with a new team - playing a new structure and meeting new teammates - I get nervous and excited,” Campbell said. “This team will only come together exactly as is for only a couple tournaments, but we come together wanting to prove ourselves to each other and our competition.”

The Elite Team will switch up codes for its next outing and participate in a sevens tournament on May 13. One week later, the ladies will return to the 15s format for the LAU tournament, which will span May 20 and 21.

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