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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Bluebonnet 7s bloom on the road to Seattle

The Bluebonnet 7s, a group of female ruggers from Texas and Oklahoma, qualified through the Red River Rugby Conference (RRRC) 7s structure to attend the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships in Tukwila, WA as the Texas seed (no pun intended, really). Their qualification is tremendous if you consider two things: 1) a year ago the Bluebonnet 7s did not exist and 2) the team has never practiced together except for an hour each on the mornings of the four summer tournaments they played. This weekend the Bluebonnets face the storied Berkeley All-Blues, the Chicago Lions, and Philadelphia in Pool A at the pinnacle of club 7s' competitions.


The Bluebonnet 7s team grew out of an organic need to provide to an upper-level rugby experience for willing and capable female rugby athletes from Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. For years Texas and the West struggled to produce a competitive team to send to the 7s NCs. There were always plenty of individual ruggers who wanted to go to 7s NCs, but those athletes were not affiliated with clubs able and willing to make the trip. Texas rugby players started asking Traci and Wendy Young about the availability of such pathways and Wendy turned to her friends at Youngbloodz from the Chicago-area for advice. Using a model that was similar to Youngbloodz but would work for the larger geographical area that is Texas and Oklahoma, the Bluebonnet 7s seed was planted (pun intended).

Wendy registered the club with USAR while Traci scheduled three camps in Austin, Dallas-Ft Worth and Houston. The Austin camp was cancelled due to weather, but the camps drew enough players that it was decided to use the club as a development side. Their first tournament was the non-qualifying, never-so-friendly Bloodfest 7s in Pflugerville. The Bluebonnets discovered that they were competitive and the dream to make a run for the 7s NC seed took hold.
Back Row: Coach Donna Thomas (Little Rock),  Courtney Applewhite (Rice), Casey Tedrick (A&M),
Rachel Haungs (Valkyries), Autumn Murrill (Valkyries), Lauren Rushing (Tulsa),
**Lakysha Mosely (Houston), Chloe Chiasson (UT).
Front Row: Savannah Campbell (OU Roses), Toni Lloyd (Griffins), Calisea Moses (UT),
Brenda Ramirez (Valkyries), Jen Whitten (OU Roses), **Barbie Blair (A&M), **Stella Keck (Rice)
**Not travelling to 7s NC
Then Texas Rugby witnessed something that has not happened in many years, more than one team in the RRRC wanted to compete for the 7s NC seed and had the talent and skill to do so. The Austin Valkyries, Tulsa, and the Dallas Harlequins gave the Bluebonnets stiff competition. The weekend following Bloodfest, the Bluebonnets topped the Women's Division at Austin 7s. They lost in the final in Tulsa, but that meant they only needed to play in the final at Varano 7s in Houston to qualify for the 7s NC. These not-so-delicate flowers were forced by the Valkyries to win the semi-final in double overtime. Then the Bluebonnets dropped the final to a ready Harlequins. But, they made the final and had clinched a qualifying bid for the 7s NC.

With Traci Schmidtke-Young as their manager and former Eagle Donna "DT" Thomas as their coach, the Bluebonnets are heading out for Seattle tomorrow.  It is easy to hear the smile on DT's face when she talks about this team. When she started coaching them in Austin, the team was "playing XVs with 7 players on the pitch" and possessed zero minutes of experience in upper-level 7s play.  The team has responded well to DT's coaching style and basic 7s instruction. Coach Thomas states that this weekend will be about exposing the team to upper-level rugby and proving themselves competitive in the face of adversity. DT is confident, though, when she says, "This is a talented group of women that just might surprise some people!"

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