At the Canada Women’s Sevens rugby tournament last month, center Lauren Doyle went on a tear for the U.S. team. She scored eight times in six matches, using her evasive moves and quickness to outrun opponents and make crucial tackles. At the end, she was named to the Dream Team, which is comprised of the seven best performers of the entire competition.
After the tournament, U.S. coach Ric Suggitt praised her for her standout performance.
Doyle grinned: “I figured out the game,” she told him, wryly.
It didn’t take her very long.
Doyle, 24, didn’t even know rugby existed until her senior year in high school, when she received a recruiting letter from Eastern Illinois asking her to come play the sport. At Meridian High School in Macon, Illinois, she had played basketball, volleyball, track, soccer and was a cheerleader. Track, in which she was a sprinter, was her best sport, but she didn’t really like it.
“I wanted to go to Eastern and play a sport, but I didn’t want to run track,” Doyle said. “So I jumped at the opportunity.”
Having been a successful athlete most of her life, Doyle shared in that common dream of wanting to do something in the Olympic Games, but she didn’t know in what sport. Rugby sevens, which uses seven players instead of the regular 15, had recently been added to the Olympic program, with its debut scheduled for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
So Doyle welcomed yet another opportunity. In 2013, she left her senior year of college to train full-time at the newly established rugby residence program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.
“I’m glad rugby found me,” she said.
Monday night found Doyle in England with the national team, the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens, where they will continue their goal toward qualifying for an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympic Games at the upcoming London Women’s Sevens tournament, which begins Friday. It is the fifth of the six rounds in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, in which 12 nations are competing.
The top four finishers in the series go to Rio. The United States is currently fifth, four points from qualifying. The final round of the series will be played May 22-23 in Amsterdam. Without a top-four finish, Team USA will have to pursue other ways of qualifying.
Doyle is one of a small core of players who have been together for the past three years.
“I think the team has continually gotten better all season long.” Doyle said. “The consistency with the selection of the team has helped us a great deal. We finally have learned how certain people play and what to expect from each other. That’s the most important part — knowing what someone is going to do before they do it.”
This season, Doyle is second on the team in both tries (11) and points scored (55). In the overall series, she ranks 17th in scoring and 18th in points. Teammate Victoria Folayan leads the team in both categories this season with 22 tries and 110 points.
“Lauren’s biggest gain this year is her ability to make game-saving tackles in the open field,” Suggitt said. “With her improved technique, she has gained the confidence necessary to being a safe defender in the midfield.
“Lauren works hard and is able to have fun, too. She’s a very quiet person and has a unique personality and a contagious laugh. It is the timing of her delivery when making comical comebacks. It is like when you least expect it — bam, you have it.”
Doyle finished her senior year of college online and graduated through Eastern Illinois last year with a degree in marketing. She’s not quite sure where that will lead.
“Honestly I have no clue what I’m going to do with my marketing degree,” she said. “I love money and was interested by the business career path. There are a lot of options.”
There are few breaks in her year-round training schedule, but in her spare time, she loves taking her dog, Bella, to the dog beach.
“She is my pride and joy,” Doyle said. “Other than that I basically watch a lot of Netflix. I’m also a huge foodie. I love going to different places to eat and try new things.”
Just like she tried rugby.
“There is no ceiling for Lauren,” Suggitt said. “If she can continue with this type of performance and development she will be a thorn in a lot of teams’ sides.”
Maryann Hudson is a freelance writer from the Houston area. She was previously an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2012 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.