Fijian Roots Help Arizona to their first Penn Mutual CRC
Arizona’s women’s te
Philadelphia, Penn. — April 24, 2015 —Amy Talei Naber will be playing with the University of Arizona’s women’s rugby team when they had to the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) for the first time ever this May. Naber has participated at various national levels, despite only playing rugby competitively starting in 2010. However, her family roots in Fiji, where rugby 7s is the national sport, had an early impact.
Naber’s mother is from the southernmost part of the Lau Islands called Vatoa where her grandfather was an accomplished seafarer and a member of Fiji’s nobility, as a Turaga ni Vanua. Her parents met in Fiji’s capital Suva, where her father sailed in on Lalelei, the trimaran, a type of boat, he built on the island of Ta’u, American Samoa. When Amy’s eldest sibling Ella was born, the couple decided to move to the United States to raise their family in her father’s hometown of Tucson, AZ. Although Amy was not born in Fiji, she has visited many times over the years. Her earliest memory of rugby is throwing a ball around the village with her cousins, unaware of its significance.
Amy is the “middle-little” of four children who all tried rugby eventually. First was Ella, who was looking for a new sport after graduating on a soccer scholarship from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She decided to check out the local rugby club and asked Amy to join her; at the time the club was training alongside the University of Arizona’s women’s team. Their practices together inspired Amy to become a collegiate rugger, rather than continue cheerleading for a tenth year.
When Amy started playing on a national scale, the competitions began to involve much more travel. Coincidentally her last trip to Fiji was actually rugby related. In 2014 Amy and Ella competed in the 2014 Marist 7s tournament with Atlantis Rugby. “The greatest part was having our Fiji family there to support us and watch us play for the first time. My family hosted the team for a traditional Fijian lovo (earth oven) feast after attending Sunday service with my uncle. It was definitely an unforgettable tour,” Amy remembers.
Now in Amy’s senior year, the Arizona women’s rugby team has decided to add a 7s opportunity to their program, which had only been 15s in the past. In making that decision the club had to determine what they wanted to focus on as the pinnacle event of their season. Arizona’s Women’s Head Rugby Coach, Richard ‘Rusty’ Wortman, explains the team’s 2015 CRC debut, “Because it is a challenge that we feel we are ready for. We are a new 7s team, but we have been a growing program and we thought this would be a great next step. We have done a number of things where teams asked, ‘Why are you doing that? Our response is why wouldn’t you?’ Also it sounds like it would be a lot of fun.”
Arizona’s men’s rugby team has been competing at the CRC since its inception. Amy’s 22-year-old brother Cody represented the Wildcats for three consecutive years after her brother-in-law Sergey Pitman in 2010. Sergey now plays with Amy’s older brother Scott for the Landsharks in Flagstaff, AZ.
Amy is looking forward to participating in the event herself this year. She said, “Making it to that championship game would be huge for us. We’re kind of the underdogs or the wildcard- no one really knows about our program. We’re secluded from the big dogs so I’m excited to see how we compete at that level. What I want from this experience is for my teammates to have exposure to a big stage and be in the presence of that high intensity environment that I get when I play with the national team. I really want players to have that experience to bring back to the team and have our program grow from it.”
This spring Amy graduates from Arizona with a degree in Physiology and will then pick up where she left off with the reigning women’s club 7s National Champions, the San Diego Surfers. In the pipeline are a shot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and a graduate program at Life Chiropractic College West.