An experienced and talented core of players is at the heart of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Rugby Team as women's rugby makes its debut on the Olympic program in Brazil.
The 12 members of the team, announced today by USA Rugby, have been steadily building success in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Five core members of the team were part of the side that finished third at the 2013 Women's Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow. Ryan Carlyle, Victoria Folayan, Kelly Griffin, Kathryn Johnson and Jillion Potter were members of the team in Russia that laid the foundation for future success for the U.S. women. Bui Baravilala, who also earned selection to the Rio squad, originally was chosen to compete in Russia but was unable to join the team due to injury and was replaced by Carlyle.
Potter was selected to the team after coming back from a career-threatening neck injury in 2013, then a battle with cancer that ran from the fall of 2014 to the following spring.
Six members of the team were on the roster when the United States won its way into the Rio tournament, outscoring its opponents 369-5 to claim the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championship. Joining Griffin on that team were Lauren Doyle, Joanne Fa’avesi, Carmen Farmer, Alev Kelter and Richelle Stephens.
Stephens, the youngest member of the team, also competed at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, where Team USA placed fourth in the sport's Youth Olympic debut. She will turn 20 on July 22.
The success grew even more a month later with a silver medal at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. Doyle, Fa’avesi, Griffin, Johnson, Kelter and Stephens powered the team into the gold-medal match against host Canada.
Jessica Javelet, who was a standout field hockey player at the University of Louisville before spending three years on the U.S. field hockey development team, rounds out the team headed to Rio.
The team’s average age is 27.1 years, with three age 30 or older: Farmer (35), Folayan (31), Javelet (31) and Potter (30).
With women’s rugby emerging on the international sporting scene, it is not surprising that many of the players have crossed over from other sports, using skills developed on the basketball court or soccer pitch as the foundation of their rugby careers. Eight played basketball, five were soccer players, three ran track, two played football and one, Kelter, was captain the U.S. team at the 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation U18 World Championship.
The U.S. women have held their own against international competition since 2014, finishing in the upper half of the standings in the Women’s World Sevens Series each of the past two years.
Team USA open Olympic play in Rio’s Deodoro Stadium against Pool A opponents Fiji and Colombia on Aug. 6, then close the preliminaries against Australia Aug. 7. The medal matches will be played on Aug. 8.