Bay Area Pelicans is hosting Gulf Coast 7s May 21st, 2016 at the Lakewood Sports Complex, 2001 Country Club Way S., St. Petersburg, FL 33712.
As the warming weather suggests, summer is closer, which means the summer 7s tournaments are just around the corner! Here is the preliminary schedule – take note and plan ahead!
May 14 – Sunshine State 7s – Brian Piccolo Park – Broward
May 21 – Gulf Coast 7s – Lakewood Soccer Complex – St. Petersburg
June 4 – Surfin 7’s -Parkland
June 18 – Fiji 7s – Miami (Qualifying Tournament)
June 25 – Todd Miller 7s – Orlando (Qualifying Tournament)
July 9 – Tampa Krewe – Tampa (Qualifying Tournament)
July 23 – Souths (location TBA). Hosted by Carolinas.
Aug 6 – Beerfoot – Ft Myers (pending approval)
Article by Stephen Sheehan, FRU PR and Content Manager
On the men’s side, the battle for the 12 exclusive spots came down to the wire, but head coach Ronnie Suarez is confident that this year’s team has what it takes to make a significant splash in Vegas. With players from both the college and men’s ranks, it’s clear the overall talent level across the state has improved dramatically from just a year ago.
Representing FRU in Las Vegas will be:
- Joe DiGregorio – Brevard
- Damian Clemente – Miami RFC
- Jeffrey Herron – Tampa Krewe
- Jonathan Halter – Gainesville
- Adrian Salazar – Miami RFC
- Mateo Velazquez – Florida International University (FIU)
- Alex Vinkavich – Miami Tridents
- Jude Kermundu – Naples
- Nick Daniel – Florida International University (FIU)
- Hank May – Gainesville
- Tyler Piggot – Naples
- Matthew Coore – Indian River
In addition, the six non-traveling reserves for the men’s side include:
- Isaac Leite – University of Florida (UF)
- Adrian White – Fort Lauderdale
- Paul Diaz – Orlando
- Dewayne Parks Jr. – Brevard
- Julius Fletcher – Treasure Coast
- Barrington McNutt – Florida International University (FIU)
The FRU is also pleased to announce the women’s side that looks to shock a stacked pool of international sides in Vegas. Representing Florida for the women are:
- Leandria Ates – FIU Womens Rugby
- Ashley Bengston – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
- Stephanie Browne – Phoenix Rugby 7s
- Cassidy Davis – Orlando Womens Rugby
- Jacqueline Edge – UCF Womens Rugby
- Agnes Fuerst – UCF Womens Rugby
- Vivian Junger Silveira – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
- Shannon Steele – Orlando Womens Rugby
- Corntey Kuehl – UCF Womens Rugby
- Zoe Sanchez-O’Neill – Orlando Womens Rugby
- Jesenia Torres – Orlando Womens Rugby
- Tatum Walker – Ft. Miami Womens Rugby
Jessica Warner of UCF and Lindsey Koren of UF Womens Rugby were selected to play but are unavailable due to injury.
Congratulations to all the players selected to represent Florida rugby at the LVI. We look forward to watching you put your talent on display at the top rugby sevens competition in the United States.
Article by Stephen Sheehan, FRU PR and Content Manager
USA Rugby returns to Florida for the first time since 2009 when the Eagles take on Chile at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 20. The match will be the third of the Americas Rugby Championship, which also features Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Uruguay.
The newly formed competition provides five additional rankings test matches per year—a potential boon for a U.S. team that just hired a new head coach in former All Blacks skipper John Mitchell.
Mitchell takes over for Mike Tolkin, who certainly played a pivotal role in helping increase the popularity of rugby in the United States. However, few candidates brought as much credibility as Mitchell, who made six appearances with the All Blacks while also suiting up for 134 matches for Waikato.
The Fort Lauderdale test match will be a rare opportunity for South Florida fans to take in some elite-level rugby. While the annual Ruggerfest tournament also takes place that weekend, there’s no comparison to seeing international stars in full-fledged action.
The last time the Eagles traveled to the Sunshine State, then-captain Todd Clever scored two tries, with Louis Stanfill and Kevin Swiryn also scoring. While the squad has changed significantly since then, there will be no shortage of star power, as notable names like Titi Lamositele, Luke Hume, and Clever—who recently re-joined the team—are expected to suit up against Chile.
USA and Chile will kick off at 6 p.m. inside Lockhart Stadium, which is currently the home of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League. With a capacity of more than 20,000, the Eagles should have no shortage of support later this month.
The Florida Rugby Union put out some cash to encourage a huge turnout for the event, offering a cash prize of $500 and an autographed Eagles jersey to the club with the most ticket sales, which was won by Fort Lauderdale. The Wellington Wizards are also taking home an autographed jersey for their club, which is part of the FYRU.
The FRU is now offering 2 sets of reserved tickets to the top USA supporters picture and the top Chile supporters picture that are posted to the Union facebook page. A picture in your team’s home jersey will work, or get creative. The picture with the top facebook votes by Sunday the 14th at midnight will each take home a pair of tickets (one for a USA pic, one for a Chile pic). Pictures need to be posted to the GU facebook page as a comment on the thread for this post. https://www.facebook.com/FloridaRugby and tagged #USAvCHI #ARC2016 #floridarugbygu #ftlauderdale in order to win. Interested in double dipping? Post to your instagram and we’ll count the likes there, too, as long as your profile isn’t private.
By Stephen Sheehan, FRU PR and Content Manager
When it comes to rugby in the United States, there isn’t a bigger event than the Las Vegas Invitational. North America’s largest rugby tournament takes place right alongside the USA Sevens invitational rugby tournament that features domestic stars like Carlin Isles and Perry Baker as well as international legends like New Zealand’s D.J. Forbes, England’s Tom Mitchell and South Africa’s Cecil Afrika.
While many established stars will be on display, Vegas is also a place where aspiring ruggers can catch the eye of national team scouts and coaches. It’s for that reason that Ronnie Suarez, Steve Braunstein, Evan Haigh and the rest of the coaches, volunteers and staff from the Florida Rugby Union have collaborated to put together the best men’s and women’s squads to represent The Sunshine State in March.
After a competitive showing at last year’s event where they took home wins over Arizona Olympic Development Academy and Utah ODA, the coaches went back to the drawing board to formulate a plan that addressed the team’s weaknesses, which mostly surrounded the art form of passing. So far, the results are positive.
“After our LVI review of last year, we looked as what we needed to do and we decided to really push the fundamentals individually to each club team through the players involved in the program,” said Suarez. “The proof was in the past summer 7’s, as not only was it the best it had been in a long time but also the teams primarily consisted of two or three players involved in the FRU 7’s RDA. Those players coming back had not only improved individually but had also brought in other teammates who had developed their skills as well.”
Unlike last year where getting consistent numbers at the squad’s training sessions in Sebastian were a struggle, the turnout has been terrific for both the men’s and women’s sides this year. At a recent training session earlier this month, 41 men and 30 women battled muddy pitches and competed hard for coveted spots on their respective teams.
“The men’s pool has grown, which is making selections difficult,” said Braunstein, the FRU 7’s director. “It’s a nice problem to have one side but trying to make sure we make the right picks is stressful. The women’s pool is surprisingly large for this first year and the same challenge is being presented.”
The overall player pool includes representatives from 15 club teams as well as two Rugby League teams. On the men’s side, seven players have already been selected, including Damian Clemente (Miami RFC), Jonathan Halter (Gainesville), Jeffrey ‘Alaska’ Herron (Tampa Krewe) and Mateo Velazquez (Florida Internation University). Suarez has also been impressed by Jude Kermundu (Naples), Matt Coore (Indian River) and Hank May (Gainesville), who have made great strides over the past year.
On the women’s side, Haigh, Sandi Felke and Mark Bongo have been tasked with putting together the FRU’s first LVI women’s squad—a task that’s much easier said than done. Luckily, the numbers have continually improved at the Sebastian training sessions and there is a ton of optimism surrounding the program.
Though the Sunshine State doesn’t receive as much national recognition as it may deserve, the number of Florida natives who came up through the FRU 7’s program may change that. The brightest star is obviously national team speedster Perry Baker, but he’s not the only name worth mentioning. Kris Thomas has taken off as a member of the women’s national 7’s team, Peter Malcolm (Taravella High School/Wheeling Jesuit University) is making waves on the USA Falcons squad and Ashaunte Stroman (FIU) is playing both 15’s and 7’s for the USA Collegiate All-American squad.
Dana Meschisi (Florida State University), Victoria Folayan (Poinciana High School), Jessica Wooden (University of Florida) and Kim Semiglia (Weston) are all in the national mix at camps and training squads.
For both the men’s and women’s FRU 7’s teams, Vegas represents the chance to not only further individual interests but the state’s as a whole. As Florida rugby gains more attention on a national scale, the opportunities for scholarships, pro contracts and recruiting will only increase. With only one more training session in February, the competition for a roster spot is as tight as ever as the race to Vegas inches closer.
By Stephen Sheehan, FRU PR and Content Manager
A great coach can turn an ordinary team into something special. And in the case of Ronnie Suarez, that’s exactly what he’s doing across the state of Florida.
Whether he is on the sidelines as the head coach of the Florida International University men’s rugby club or cultivating talent as the head coach of the Florida Rugby Union High Performance Sevens team, Suarez’s dedication and passion for the game has led to impressive results.
The well-traveled former Marine grew up around the game, as his aunt played for the Old Blue women’s team in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Suarez’s playing career included stops with North County Gurkhas and OMBAC, with his first official action coming in 1995 in Fremantle, Australia as a member of the Palmyra RFC. After moving to Miami in 1998, Suarez began playing for Miami RFC until he decided to make the natural transition from player to coach.
A self-described technical thinker who hails from a family full of successful sports coaches, Suarez credits both his mother and his military experience as major influences on his approach to coaching the often-misunderstood game of rugby.
“The discipline and hard work ethic is definitely my mom’s doing,” he said. “She was a tough, single mother who raised her kids to be the same way. The Marine corps gave me my never say die, never less than 100 percent respect and honor attitude.”
Of course, coaching soccer or baseball is one thing, but coaching rugby is an entirely different animal. Luckily, Suarez has been able to pick the brains of some of the top coaches around the globe to help shape his philosophies.
“I went to New Zealand and spent 10 days with City RFC in Whangarei watching their coaches and how they taught the players more than they coached. It really changed my thought process on how to coach the game,” Suarez explained. “There are a lot of coaches that I look up to and have helped shape me as well like Pierre Villepreux and Mike Luke.”
Suarez also credits Boca RFC coach Frank Tito as a major influence and says he could not have done a lot without his mentor’s guidance.
As a man who wears many hats, Suarez is intimately familiar with the challenges of coaching for both FIU and the FRU High Performance Sevens team. Interestingly, the challenges differ quite a bit between the two programs.
“In my current setup as head coach of the FRU Sevens, my major challenge is getting coaches behind the program and encouraging their players to try it out,” Suarez said. “With FIU, changing the perception of rugby to administrators who have no idea about the sport is pretty hard. Our own president and athletic department didn’t know FIU Rugby existed.”
Despite the widespread challenges of culture, administration, attitudes toward the sport and financial support, Suarez continues to charge ahead and establish himself as one of the most successful and influential members of the Florida rugby community. He recently led FIU to an undefeated season that culminated in a thrilling victory at the SIRC Championship that may finally put FIU Rugby on the national radar.
“Ronnie is a competitive and laser-focused coach that has been able to assemble a great team by knowing his players’ strengths and weaknesses,” said FIU senior standout Jose Laphitzondo. “Under him, the team had the mission to make it to nationals. The team understood that under a common objective every tackle, sprint and burpee had a purpose so the team pushed each other towards that goal.”
However, it’s Suarez’s work with the FRU HP Sevens program that has a potentially more profound effect. With rugby sevens gaining popularity based on the success of the U.S. Eagles, there’s a great opportunity for the game to catch on and attract more attention from television networks and crossover athletes.
For Suarez, the FRU HP Sevens program is the perfect gateway for the state’s top rugby athletes to get a chance to represent their country on an international stage. One of Suarez’s goals is to get the Florida HP Sevens program recognized as an Olympic Development Academy, which would give every player in the state the opportunity to get a chance to be chosen for the USA Eagles Olympic Pathway.
“Growing our program now and getting it recognized is something we are in the process of doing, but participation numbers are what really make and break us, so getting those numbers up is key.”
Additionally, Suarez’s long list of goals includes gaining varsity status for both the men’s and women’s rugby teams at FIU as well as getting in the elite coaches group for sevens in the U.S.
As someone who never settles for less than perfection, Suarez certainly isn’t someone you want to bet against. No matter if he’s running an extra conditioning session with his FIU team or preparing to take on Mexico with the FRU HP Sevens squad, Suarez is a man whose intense preparation and selfless dedication will help grow the game of rugby not only in Florida but across the United States.
“If the clubs, officers and players of Florida ask themselves ‘How to help grow the game?’ and follow through with it, we will see Florida rugby rise to where it should have been a long time ago. But it starts with that question: How may we help grow the game?”
Cam Dolan threw a 45-yard touchdown strike on his first play of freshman football at Palmetto Ridge High School. Eight games later, his team was undefeated and parents and friends told his father Terrey that Cam could end up playing for the Florida Gators.
Cam never played football again.
The Naples native whose sweet swing warranted neighborhood cheers and whose dominance with the puck made him one frightening 4-year-old in an eight-and-under roller hockey league went down a different path than most American kids.
He tried rugby.
While his father Terrey had no prior experience in the sport, he did play tennis while attending the University of South Florida and was a former nationally ranked high-jumper in high school. Given his athletic genes, Cam seemingly had all the physical tools to grow into an elite rugby player. After all, this is the kid whose elementary school PE teacher entered him into the Southwest Florida bracket of the Punt, Pass & Kick competition, which Cam won, of course.
As Terrey put it, “Cam basically came out of the womb growling and swinging.”
Though he probably could have been a great football player, Cam decided to take his athletic talents to the rugby pitch for Steve Young’s Naples Bears. Having already won four high-school club championships, Young was well-established as one of the best high school coaches in the state and Dolan became an instant sensation. Six weeks into his rugby career, he was called up to play for the national U-17 team.
Of course, the game was all new to Terrey, who literally went out and bought a copy of Rugby for Dummies in order to learn the ins and outs of his son’s new passion.
While playing for the U-17 team over in England, Cam’s play drew the attention of hundreds of spectators and even more colleges and universities.
“I had never even personally see him play a rugby game,” his father recalled. “When he got home from that tournament my phone was ringing off the hook from English schools wanting him to come play for them.”
Cam did end up playing in England during the fall of his senior year before returning to the U.S. to finish up high school. However, it didn’t take long before the rugby suitors started calling.
One of those schools was Life University, a private school located in Marietta, Ga. that’s produced several national team stars like Phil Thiel and AJ MacGinty. Cam earned a rare full-ride scholarship to the prestigious rugby powerhouse and went on to become a four-time All-American and national champion for the Running Eagles.
A versatile athlete who also made appearances for the U.S. National Sevens team back in 2011, Cam set his sights on becoming a staple of the U.S. Eagles, the national 15s team.
In only a few years since graduating from Life, Cam has gone from a Florida youth sport star to a bonafide professional rugby player. His size, speed and outstanding collegiate career helped him earn a contract with the renowned Northampton Saints, a professional rugby club based in England. Though Cam’s experience could have gone better, getting through adversity is nothing new. According to Terrey, Cam suffered two torn ACLs during his athletic career, but he’s surprisingly returned faster than ever after both injuries.
Following his stop in Northampton, Cam has since signed a contract with the Cardiff Blues, where he’s expected to earn more playing time while playing a system that’s better suited to his freakish athleticism.
All of the moving around the world has taken its toll on Cam’s family. Terrey, who works as the Director of Planning for Lennar Homes’ Southwest Florida Division, has only been able to see him play in person for a national side a handful of times. That doesn’t mean he’s any less of a fan, as his humble son often has to remind his dad to keep the cheerleading to a minimum.
Even with the pro contract and accolades that come with being a world-renowned athlete, representing his country and giving back to the community is something else entirely worthwhile for Cam.
“It’s not even how great of an athlete he’s fortunate enough to be,” his father said. “He can make friends with the devil’s meaner, older brother. He’s just a humble guy who doesn’t seek the spotlight.”
Avoiding the spotlight is a challenge for a guy who stands 6-foot-6, especially given his prominent spot on the Eagles. Capable of playing loose forward or second row, Cam has settled in as a lock forward for an Eagles team that suffered a critical loss at the spot when veteran Scott LaValla was ruled out for the 2015 Rugby World Cup due to an elbow injury.
While the Eagles face an uphill battle against a tough pool that includes South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Japan, they have a ton of new blood that could help them score some upsets over in England.
“There may not be more professional players than the 2011 team, but the quality of the athletes overall has greatly increased,” said Terrey.
At the end of the day, whether the Eagles go 4-0 or 0-4, the fact that young home-grown stars like Cam Dolan, Seamus Kelly and Danny Barrett are coming into their own is a fantastic step in the right direction for the growth of rugby in the U.S. This generation of talent will only set the stage for future generations to come through the youth system like Cam, who has clearly made an impact on the youth around the world already.
“While he was with Northampton doing community service work I received personal text messages from parents of disabled kids thanking me for how my son went above and beyond speaking with their children,” Terrey said. “After that I said he would never have to play another minute of rugby for the rest of my life and I’ll be proud.”
Luckily for American rugby fans, we’ll get to see plenty of Cam donning the U.S. colors for a while.
By Stephen Sheehan, FRU Media Intern
Most boys grow up wanting to be a rock star, baseball player or maybe even an actor. For Lucas Baistrocchi, his life’s dream has always been about rugby.
From the time he first picked up a rugby ball at the age of 5 for Manuel Belgrano, a club in his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to most recently suiting up for the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team, rugby has been the focus of Baistrocchi’s life.
His rugby journey started back in Buenos Aires, and also included stops with Stade Francais, Nido de Aguilas and Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile. But it wasn’t until 2006 when he moved to Weston, located in South Florida, that Baistrocchi’s rugby aspirations really took off.
With an intense hunger to develop his game, Baistrocchi searched for clubs around the area to play with. However, he couldn’t satiate his appetite and even considered playing men’s rugby with the Ft. Lauderdale club. Not yet 16, he was ineligible to play for Fort Lauderdale. So, as he’s done his entire life, Baistrocchi took it upon himself to grow the game.
With the help of a teacher at his school (Cypress Bay High), and a few friends, the group started the Weston U-19 club. For three years, Baistrocchi not only starred for the team but he also started and coached the Weston U-14 team alongside some of his close friends.
“Luckily, the small operation we started went on to expand and now the kids I used to coach are developing into outstanding rugby players and adults,” he said.
Baistrocchi’s list of accolades from his early playing days include playing for the Florida Thunder U-20 on a North Carolina tour, playing for Rugby Academy of America U-20 against Georgia U-20 as the curtain opener match for the Rugby World Cup Qualifier game between USA and Uraguay in 2009 and playing for the Florida Juice U-20 against a New Zealand touring side. It was through his experience with the Juice playing at Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest that Baistrocchi would be introduced to the University of Florida Men’s Rugby Club’s coaches and players—a moment he will never forget.
“After I met Coach Ken Simmons and Gary Byrne and was introduced to the elite group of players representing the university, I knew that’s where I wanted to study,” he said. “I wanted to be part of that family at all costs.”
Ultimately, Baistrocchi’s dream came true and he quickly became an integral member of the Gators squad. During his four-year career at UF, he enjoyed both individual and team success, often through an incredible work ethic that trickled down to his teammates.
Matt McGee, who played alongside and also lived with Baistrocchi, was floored at his teammate’s dedication both on and off the field.
“He was so strict with his nutrition and measured and tracked every little thing that went into his body,” McGee said. “He’d stretch and foam roll multiple times a day, did yoga and anything that was necessary to get back to full strength. He watched film all the time, and it showed as his knowledge of the game is impeccable.”
Robert Roux, who played rugby for the Gators for five years, met Baistrocchi before he had even been accepted into UF and immediately knew there was something different about him.
“Even though I had only been playing rugby for a year, I could tell he was a special player,” Roux said. “He already had all the rugby skills needed to be a great rugby player in college, but that didn’t stop him from working harder than anyone else. During the four years I’ve known Lucas, I have seen him develop into an extraordinary rugby player but more importantly I watched him become a great leader in the club and a person who everyone can aspire to be.”
With Baistrocchi dictating the game at flyhalf, the Gators captured three Florida Cup championships, won the inaugural SCRC championship, made two appearances at the Collegiate Rugby Championship and won second place at the SCRC 7s Championship. Of course, he couldn’t have done it without the help of his teammates, coaches or his father, who he named as his biggest inspiration.
“My father cut his playing career short when he suffered an accident working underwater,” Baistrocchi said. “Ever since I was born he has been there for all of my accomplishments. Just watching him succeed in the professional world and making my mom and siblings happy serves as my constant motivation to improve as a person and make him proud every single day.”
While many players are satisfied with just playing rugby in college and perhaps for a men’s club after graduating, Baistrocchi has been and continues to be intimately involved with growing the game in the United States. He interned with Florida Rugby Union, where he got a firsthand glimpse at the dedication it takes to help grow the game he’s loved since the age of 5.
“Getting involved with the day-to-day operations and all the planning involved to grow rugby in Florida gave me a better insight to just how hard people like Evan Haigh work to expose our athletes to higher-level rugby,” he said. “During my time as an intern, I was able to sharpen my time management, organization and research skills. These skills are fundamental to success in any aspect of life, so I believe that any time I was able to work on them I got better as a person and as a player.”
Following his final game with the Gators in the SCRC semifinal against LSU, Baistrocchi set out follow his dream of working for USA Rugby. The sport management major went through a thorough application and interview process with the organization before the exciting news came. This summer he’s working in the Youth Development department, which is a great fit with his experience starting the club in Weston.
“Moving to Boulder was a smoother transition than I thought, and so far I’m loving it,” he said. “To see rugby grow across the nation is my motivation to always give 100 percent in everything I do.”
Baistrocchi’s summer has been jam-packed, as he was named to the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team after a grueling four-day training camp that he described as one of the toughest moments of his playing career. Never one for settling, Baistrocchi’s ultimate goal is to be an Eagle.
“I don’t think there is a greater honor than standing with the best of the best in the country representing the United States of America,” he said. “Our generation has the power to move American rugby in the right direction and eventually compete with tier 1 nations. I think we are getting very close to that and I want to be able to say that I was lucky to be involved in that movement.”
Of course, there comes a day where any athlete’s playing days come to an end, but Baistrocchi hopes to be one of the pioneers of growing the game on the home front. He’s a classic example of never forgetting where you came from.
“The dedication and passion that many of the FRU members have for this sport is very encouraging for the future of Florida Rugby,” he said. “I believe that the state has some of the best athletes in the nation, and due to geographical distances they are hardly ever recognized. If I can help other players from Florida reach out and play competitive rugby at a higher level I think I can become a small part of the movement to put Florida Rugby on the map.”