Do-It-All Star Jessica Javelet, Already A Rugby Sevens Olympian, Takes On New Challenge At 15s Rugby World Cup

By Doug Williams | Aug. 08, 2017, 12:20 p.m. (ET)

Jessica Javelet runs with the ball in a women's rugby against Colombia at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at Deodoro Stadium on Aug. 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.


In high school in San Diego, Jessica Javelet starred in field hockey while also lettering in lacrosse, soccer and basketball.

Later she was an All-American in field hockey at the University of Louisville before making the national team in that sport and playing professionally in Germany. Then she put on pads and a helmet for a few years in the Women’s Football Alliance, playing wide receiver for two teams.

So JJ, as she’s known to friends and teammates, has game no matter what the game may be.

Yet when she discovered rugby, she immediately regretted having gone through life without it.

“I remember my dad watching me play, the first time he came down to the (Chula Vista, California) training center, and after the game he was like, ‘This is your sport. This is the sport for you,’” said Javelet.

Javelet, 32, laughs as she recalls the story and her athletic résumé.

Once she started playing rugby sevens in 2013 — the wide-open, high-scoring, seven-player version of the game traditionally played by teams of 15 — she was hooked. At 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, Javelet has the speed, quickness and field vision (honed from all those years in other sports) to be an impact player.

In 2016, she was on the U.S. team that qualified for the Olympic debut of rugby sevens at the Rio Games and helped Team USA finish fifth. Along the way, the speedy wing was a constant breakaway threat, scoring four tries over five games.

Now Javelet is making another transition, from the sevens to 15s, and will make her international debut for the U.S. team at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland that begins play Wednesday.

Coach Pete Steinberg, who had coached her in sevens, suggested Javelet try it. Her skills have translated, and she’ll get playing time on the wing again as a scoring threat. 

“They keep me on the outside,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Stand out there with the people your size.’”

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She’s one of just two players on the team with no international experience, but nearly half the team is made up of former sevens teammates. So, with friends and more experienced 15s players taking her under their wing, she’s taken a crash course before the World Cup.

“It’s obviously a much different game,” she said. “I love sevens. As I’ve started to play 15s more, I don’t really know which one I like more.”

The games are longer and more physical in 15s, which she likes, because there’s time for the game to evolve. Still, as in sevens, one big play in 15s can break open a game.

“For someone like me who maybe isn’t the biggest, speed is more of my thing,” she said. “That’s been the challenge, trying to create space for myself and for my teammates.”

And she’s not the only scoring threat. She points to “world-class finishers,” players such as Naya Tapper, Kristen Thomas, Cheta Emba and Jess Wooden, as exciting, athletic players with the ball in their hands and who could help the U.S., ranked seventh in the world, make a run through the tournament.

“We’ve got a lot of dynamic players you have to defend in different ways, and it really stresses out the defense,” she said. “Hard runners, people who’ll beat you on the inside, beat on you outside.”

Javelet’s path to rugby began when she had a football teammate who played for the national rugby team and suggested she give it a try. Javelet attended her first national sevens camp in September 2013, then became a resident athlete at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the Olympic Training Center) in early 2014. In 2015-16, she helped the U.S. finish sixth in the HSBC Women’s Sevens World Series, as well as qualify for the Rio Games.

Though the Americans got off to a slow start and didn’t win a medal in Brazil, she relished the experience not only for herself, but for the national program. Now she sees the sport growing, especially with high school and college-age female players, a good development for the national teams.

She hopes to play both sevens and 15s for the national teams.

“For as long as they’ll have me,” she said. “That’s the plan.”

In 2018, the U.S. will host the Rugby World Cup Sevens, with qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to follow.

But first, there’s the World Cup in Ireland. Javelet is eager for yet another new challenge.

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.