At 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday mornings, it is still dark outside and most of the island is sound asleep. But at the old George Hicks field, there is a group of women that are already up and running.
They are running sprints, practicing drills and perfecting their scoring plays. They are the Cayman Islands women’s touch rugby team, and they have been training intensely for the upcoming USA Touch Nationals tournament that will be held in Oceanside, California on Oct. 12-14.
Last year, the Cayman Islands formed a national women’s team for touch rugby for the first time. Previously only men’s and mixed teams attended international tournaments. Last October, the inaugural women’s team competed at the USA Touch Nationals in Orlando, Florida. The experience of playing against such a high caliber of competition inspired the women to further up their game in 2017.
Vikki Piaso, the Women’s Development Officer for the Cayman Touch Association, is also the coach for the national women’s team. Originally from New Zealand, she has been the driving force behind the recruitment, training and development of the women’s program.
Potential new players were scouted from other Cayman national teams, including rugby, football and flag football. Speed and athleticism were key factors in selecting new recruits, with the premise that the technical touch rugby skills could be taught.
Training started in February, with weekly sessions that focused on the fundamental skills of rucking, passing and defense. Once the foundation was laid, a series of offensive plays were added, along with scratch matches and official game time.
Many of the women played for the Highbury Consulting team in the invitational division of the summer co-ed league. Scott McCarty, president of the Cayman Touch Association, organized several tournaments for all Cayman teams to play in. The Mourant Ozannes Cup of Nations in February, the Cayman Islands International Touch Tournament hosted in March, the New York tournament in July and the one-day fun TRL Tournament last month have given the Cayman players ample opportunities to practice their skills in a real game environment.
For the past three months, the training schedule has further intensified with early morning practice sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays; two-hour training sessions on Wednesday evenings; and scratch matches at the weekend. This is in addition to the individual workouts the players have been doing on their own time to increase their fitness levels.
Last month, the USA Touch Women’s Open Head Coach, Adrian Witte, came to Cayman for a week specifically to train the women’s team. He focused on communication on the field, defensive line coverage and strike plays. When he was dragged out to one of the 5:30 a.m. training sessions, he was surprised to see a full contingent there. He said, “I’m going to go back to the States and tell my team that even though they think they are intense, they don’t have anything on the Cayman team … you are intense!”
Coach Piaso could not agree more. “The ladies have been putting in some incredible hours and training hard throughout the year,” she said. “As a coach, I am very proud of everyone’s efforts and cannot wait to watch these amazing athletes take the field this week.”
Last year, the team had three scoring plays, whereas this year they are heading to the nationals with nine offensive plays in their arsenal.
Team captain Katy Bayles is a strike-mid, who leads the team on the field by calling and executing the plays. Her ability to read the defense, coupled with her quick scoop and stealthy side-step, make her a formidable offensive threat. She is a physical education teacher at CIFEC, and the team has greatly benefitted from her detailed breakdown of the plays and teaching on and off the field.
The other strike-mid, Lisa Kehoe, joined the women’s team this year and brought along a wealth of experience, as well as some deadly strike moves. Kehoe explains, “I have been playing touch rugby in Cayman for about 20 years, but the CTA have, in the last few years, made it more competitive and helped a lot of women excel in the sport – it has been amazing to see. And now this year I am very lucky to have the privilege to play with my 13-year-old daughter Molly, who is also on the team. It’s not always possible for a parent to play a competitive sport with one of their children, and to do it at such a prestigious tournament makes it all the more special.”
Rounding out the mid-field position are the team’s three set-up mids: Kaili Kappler, Michelle Bailey and Monette Windsor, all of whom played on last year’s team in the link position. Their roles are to execute the plays that the strike-mids call and hopefully score quite a few tries while doing so.
At link position, there are returning players Emma Carroll, Chantal Incledon and Sharlee Henshaw, along with newcomers Jess Deegenaars and Jodie McTaggart. The links are also an integral part of the offense.
And in the wing position, there are three rookies who are well known in the Cayman sporting world – Bobeth O’Garro, Molly Kehoe and Racquel Brown.
Captain Katy Bayles gives insight into the group: “As a team we have trained throughout the year to improve upon our last performance at U.S. Nationals. The experience we gained from last year’s tournament has allowed us to develop as a group and to focus our training throughout the year on sharpening our basic skills and game awareness. We go into this year’s tournament with a combination of experienced players and exciting new talent, which I am sure, will allow us to compete at a high standard.”
The women’s team will be joining the Cayman men’s and mixed teams at the nationals this year.