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 (March 19-21), and will then compete in the world famous Hong Kong Sevens (March 26-28).
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 are 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 to the IRB Series season. In the last two legs of the series, the USA won the Shield title in Wellington, New Zealand and collected the Bowl title on home soil in Las Vegas. The Bowl title in Las Vegas also came with the USA’s first IRB Series points of the season.
Now that the ice has been broken, the USA looks 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.
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—all of whom played vital roles in the USA's recent surge.
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, powerful, 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 teamz—anchored by the likes of Todd Clever, Chris Wyles, and Takuzdwa Ngwenya—began to disband, leaving the team to limp through the final two legs of the IRB Series while their stars returned to their professional rugby clubs.
The poor finish left many wondering how long it would take for the USA to rebuild. After all, that particular group of players took almost three years to develop.
The slow start to the season reinforced many of those worries, but Caravelli 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 far earlier than most expected.
The team will now deal with the pressure of going from underdog to darkhorse.
USA Sevens Squad for Australia & Hong Kong
Barnard, Marco (Kutztown)
Bokhoven, Mark (Denver Barbarians)
Edwards, Nick (New York Athletic Club)
Emerick, Paul (Parma, Italy)
Hawkins, Matt (Belmont Shore) [Vice Captain]
Malifa, Valenese (Belmont Shore)
Pangelinan, Zach (Old Mission Bay Athletic Club)
Peters, Leonard (Aspen)
Saunders, Tommy (Kansas City Blues)
Suniula, Shalom (Pearl City)
Swiryn, Kevin (Old Puget Sound Beach) [Captain]
Test, Zach (Loughborough University)