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JBLM soldier makes All-Army team

Lt. Whitney on rugby team

Capt. Ashley Sorensen practices kicking the ball back to her team after a player had been tackled during the first-ever Armed Forces women’s rugby training camp, Aug. 25. Photo credit: Gary Sheftick

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Sixteen servicemembers reported Aug. 23 to the military's first training camp for women's rugby, including a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Armed Forces Sports has been working for about a decade to set up a female rugby program, said Steven Dinote, who directs the sports program for The Department of Defense.

"It's been a struggle finding a tournament we can actually participate in," Dinote said, adding that this year when the weeklong training camp ends, the women's team competed in the USA Rugby Elite City Sevens Tournament in Philadelphia but lost to Little Rock.

Several women on the team said they have been waiting excitedly for Armed Forces Sports to stand up a program and have been playing in local clubs and tournaments in the meantime to keep their skills.

Rugby has been one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. over the past four or five years, said Army Capt. Andrew Locke, who volunteered to coach the women's team. He's leading the players through drills this week on the pitch at Fort Indiantown Gap.

Locke, who was a quarterback at West Point his freshman year before switching over to rugby, played on the USA Men's National Rugby Team last year and now serves as a talent scout and coach for the national team, also known as the Eagles. In addition, he plays as scrum half for the Armed Forces Men's Team.

"The Army wanted to get this off the ground and give women an opportunity to play," Locke said. The service thought about putting together an All-Army Team, he said, but decided that the way to go - at least for the first year - was to establish a joint Armed Forces Team.

Marine 1st Lt. Jane Paar is player-captain of the inaugural team. Paar also plays as prop and hooker on the Women's National Rugby Team and hopes to play with Team USA in the Olympics next year in Rio.

"This is an awesome opportunity," Paar said of being able to captain the Armed Forces Team. "I'm really excited."

"What more could you want on a Seven's Team?" she asked. In Seven's Rugby, seven athletes play seven-minute halves and the game is fast.

Army Capt. Simona Shipp said rugby develops teamwork.

"There's no such thing as a ‘superstar' in rugby," she said, emphasizing that it takes the entire team working together to win.

Shipp, a staff judge advocate attorney at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, plays with a Fairbanks rugby club when she's not on duty.

She said rugby helps develop confidence, not only on the pitch, but in other fields as well. "In the middle of calamity, you have to keep a straight head," she said.

The 12 servicemembers who made the selection for the Armed Forces Women's Rugby Team were:

  • Army 2nd Lt. Jacqueline Marks, 557th Military Police Company, Camp Humphreys, Korea
  • Army Capt. Ashley Sorensen, 303rd Ordnance Bn. (EOD), Fort Wainwright, Alaska
  • Army 1st Lt. Kelsie Whitney, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
  • Army 1st Lt. Jessica Sexauer, C Company, 1-4th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Infantry Div., Fort Carson, Colorado
  • Army Sgt. Cerrin Eldridge, 725th Brigade Support Battalion, Fort Richardson, Alaska
  • Sr. Airman Merideth Jordan, RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom
  • Air Force 2nd Lt. Emily Raney, Hill Air Force Base, Utah
  • Air Force 2nd Lt. Jamie Stewart, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California
  • Marine 1st Lt. Erin Bevacqua, Office of the Inspector General of the marine Corps, Arlington, Virginia
  • Marine Capt. Elizabeth Trujillo, Headquarters Battery, 11th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, California
  • Marine 1st Lt. Jane Paar, San Diego
  • Navy Lt.j.g. Erin Fields, HSM-46, Mayport, Florida

First Lt. Tenesha Middleton of Fort Gordon, Georgia, was also at the training camp.

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