FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- Sixteen service members reported Aug. 23 to the military's first training camp for women's rugby.
Armed Forces Sports has been working for about a decade to set up a
female rugby program, said Steven Dinote, who directs the sports program
"It's been a struggle finding a tournament we can actually participate
in," Dinote said, adding that this year when the weeklong training camp
ends, the women's team will compete in the USA Rugby Elite City Sevens
Tournament in Philadelphia over the weekend.
Several women on the team said they have been waiting excitedly for
Armed Forces Sports to stand up a program and have been playing in local
clubs and tournaments in the meantime to keep their skills.
Rugby has been one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. over the
past four or five years, said Army Capt. Andrew Locke, who volunteered
to coach the women's team. He's leading the players through drills this
week on the pitch at Fort Indiantown Gap.
Locke, who was a quarterback at West Point his freshman year before
switching over to rugby, played on the USA Men's National Rugby Team
last year and now serves as a talent scout and coach for the national
team, also known as the Eagles. In addition, he plays as scrum half for
the Armed Forces Men's Team.
"The Army wanted to get this off the ground and give women an
opportunity to play," Locke said. The service thought about putting
together an All-Army team, he said, but decided that the way to go -- at
least for the first year -- was to establish a joint Armed Forces Team.
Marine 1st Lt. Jane Paar is player-captain of the inaugural team. Paar
also plays as prop and hooker on the Women's National Rugby Team and
hopes to play with Team USA in the Olympics next year in Rio.
"This is an awesome opportunity," Paar said of being able to captain the
Armed Forces team. "I'm really excited." She said the team has some
good runners and everyone's fit.
"What more could you want on a Seven's Team?" she asked. In Seven's
Rugby, seven athletes play seven-minute halves and the game is fast.
"It's physical, it's mental, it's such a great sport!" Paar said, adding that it also helps develop military skills.
Army Capt. Simona Shipp said rugby develops teamwork.
"There's no such thing as a 'superstar' in rugby," she said, emphasizing that it takes the entire team working together to win.
Shipp, a staff judge advocate attorney at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, plays with a Fairbanks rugby club when she's not on duty.
She said rugby helps develop confidence, not only on the pitch, but in
other fields as well. "In the middle of calamity, you have to keep a
straight head," she said.
Army Capt. Ashley Sorensen goes by the nickname "Viking" because she
sometimes wears her blonde hair in two braids when she plays. Sorensen,
who serves with the 303rd Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance
Detachment) at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, broke the Guinness world
record for the fastest mile run in a full bomb suit.
Sorensen ran the mile in 11 minutes, six seconds and broke the EOD
record by more than 2.5 minutes. She brings that same speed and
endurance to rugby, though she's recovering from a knee injury suffered
last year when tackled high while playing for the Hawaii Harlequins.
Air Force 2nd Lt. Emily Raney said her Army father supports her in the
sport. Col. Lance Raney is chief of Consultants and Clinical Policy at
the U.S. Army Medical Command headquarters in Falls Church, Va.
The younger Raney serves at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, where she plays
for the Salt Lake City Slugs recreational rugby team. She also plays as
wide receiver, safety and kicker for the Utah Falconz, a semi-pro
women's tackle football team.
Sgt. Cerrin Allyn Eldridge was one of only three enlisted players at the
training camp. She's a parachute rigger for the 725th Brigade Support
Battalion at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
"I'd like to see the sport grow in the military," Eldridge said, adding
that she was delighted that the Armed Forces women's rugby program has
gotten underway, as her opportunities to play in Alaska were limited.
"This gives us an opportunity to come down here and play in beautiful
weather against really good teams and meet really other really good
rugby players," she said.
The female players have come together to play well as a team in just a few days, she said.
"Any kind of rugby team, usually the minute we meet, we all of a sudden
start bonding," Eldridge said. "We all play one of the roughest sports
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Mallory Michaels, a corpsman, was another
enlisted player at the training camp. She serves as a full-timer at a
Navy Reserve Operational Support Center in New Hampshire.
Michaels said she has broken her wrist and all 10 of her fingers at one
time or another playing rugby. Sometimes she just splinters them in
cardboard to get back in the game that she says she loves so much.
As a corpsman, Michaels said she often helps treat other players injured
at rugby club games, even though she's off duty. She said the sport not
only provides her fitness training, it also provides training in her
rate or military occupational specialty.
Michaels began playing rugby at Lock Haven University in central
Pennsylvania. She said she felt right at home at Fort Indiantown Gap as
Black Hawk helicopters flew along a ridge of the Blue Mountains in the
None of the players seemed to notice the helicopters landing and taking
off as they practiced scrums, rucks, mauls, passing and tackling on this
warm August afternoon. They were preparing to scrimmage against several
of the Armed Forces Men's Rugby Team there to help with practice.
The 12 service members who made the selection for the Armed Forces Women's Rugby Team were:
-- Army 2nd Lt. Jacqueline Marks, Camp Humphreys, Korea
-- Army Capt. Ashley Sorensen, Fort Wainwright, Alaska
-- Army 1st Lt. Kelsie Whitney, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
-- Army 1st Lt. Jessica Sexauer, Fort Carson, Colorado
-- Army Sgt. Cerrin Eldridge, Fort Richardson, Alaska
-- Sr. Airman Merideth Jordan, RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom
-- Air Force 2nd Lt. Emily Raney, Hill Air Force Base, Utah
-- Air Force 2nd Lt. Jamie Stewart, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California
-- Marine 1st Lt. Erin Bevacqua, Arlington, Virginia
-- Marine Capt. Elizabeth Trujillo, Camp Pendleton, California
-- Marine 1st Lt. Jane Paar, San Diego
-- Navy Lt.j.g. Erin Fields, Mayport, Florida
First Lt. Tenesha Middleton of Fort Gordon, Georgia, was also at the training camp.