MOSCOW, Russia - Christy Ringgenberg is the only player from the Eagles 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai to return to the World Cup stage this weekend. She also debuted for the Women's Eagles fifteens at the 2009 Nations Cup, and played every minute at the 2010 Rugby World Cup in England. We caught up with the veteran to see what has changed over the last four years.
Ringgenberg’s rugby story is not unlike many current full-time athletes. She found the sport in college at the University of Minnesota. After playing as a walk-on with the U of M Women’s Soccer team during her freshman year, Ringgenberg was looking for something different. She found it in rugby.
“At my first rugby practice I got run over by a huge prop and went home crying,” laughs Ringgenberg, as she takes a trip down memory lane. “But I came back and they asked me to play that weekend. They put me at outside center and said ‘if you get the ball, just run’ and that’s what I did. I just ran down the field and scored 8 tries.
“They let me kick for posts, because I was a soccer player. I twisted my heel in the ground, made a divot, shoved the ball into the ground, ran up and smashed it. It bounced off the crossbar and went over and I was like ‘this is awesome!’”
It wasn’t long before the USA National team noticed Ringgenberg’s talent and speed. At the time she ran the 40 meter in 5.0 seconds.
“I had played Midwest Sevens, and at the time was blistering fast. So in 2004 I was selected to go to the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.”
Ringgenberg became a staple on the Women’s Eagles Sevens squad and played in numerous events around the globe from 2004 to 2009. One of her most memorable experiences was winning the Hong Kong Sevens in 2008. Shortly thereafter, the Women’s Eagles - coached by Julie McCoy - headed to the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai.
Having been coached by McCoy for just three years, Ringgenberg appreciates and admires what she has done for the program and continues to do for women’s rugby.
“She’s a very dynamic personality,” says Ringgenberg. “She brought a lot of energy into the game and did a lot to professionalize the sevens program. Julie put a lot of work into the fundraising and organization, and took us on tours that were not funded by USA Rugby. So she really made a huge effort to get us experience before the World Cup.
“Before we left for Dubai we had been in residency for a month, so we were as prepared as we could have been. We did have a couple new players come in at the last minute, so it was a matter of catching them up kind of late, but we felt really positive about our chances to win the World Cup.”
The Women’s Eagles went 2-1 in pool play, then defeated France 19-0 in the Cup Quarterfinals in the Dubai desert heat. This set up a bone-crunching encounter with New Zealand. Ringgenberg had yet another fantastic performance in the Eagles jersey.
“We ended up losing that semifinal against New Zealand by two points. We played a good game. I think we had been kind of predictable until the World Cup, and then we really found our confidence and showed them some new things, and scored two tries. Near the end of the game we were on the 5-meter line and went out of bounds. The referee cut the game short by 30 seconds and that was it. That was the end of our Rugby World Cup Sevens experience.”
Four years later and the scene is set for another World Cup, this time in Russia’s capital city, Moscow. Ringgenberg returns with a completely new squad, and new coach. Ric Suggitt took over the team in 2010 and has ushered the players into a full-time residency program.
“Ric gives the players a lot of autonomy, he wants the players to think for themselves and be creative,” said Ringgenberg. “We do a lot more off the field work without him: we’re watching game film, we’re filling out attack sheets and we have meetings on our own to scout the opposition teams. He really encourages us to think about the game and think about it away from practice.”
It’s extremely interesting to note the advancement of the women’s game in a relatively short period of time, both on and off the field. Ringgenberg has seen first hand that it has “become a lot faster and more creative”, as well as more aggressive defensively and competitive in terms of skill level. The current opportunities for players to develop is exponentially greater than it was when the team was preparing for the last World Cup just four years ago.
Ringgenberg continued: “We study individual players from the other teams, looking at tendencies: things like who likes to pass the ball, who prefers to run, who takes contact--those sorts of things. We are able to do all of that analysis at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), because we now have the time and flexibility as part of the residency program.”
Being in residency allows the players not only the ability to train full-time, but to receive the type of professional support that makes a big difference on the international stage. In fact, two members of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) staff are traveling with the squad in Russia: Peter Haberl is the USOC Senior Sport Psychologist and Shawn Dolan the USOC Sports Dietician.
“Peter is amazing,” fires Ringgenberg. “He really gets to the core of what we need before a tournament without getting everyone emotional. On tour, he is able to pinpoint what we need to focus on, and is really good about bringing us back to the present moment. Shawn does a lot of work at the OTC to help prepare us for these trips, and is also an invaluable tool for us.”
The USA Rugby residency program sees 16 male and 16 female athletes living full-time in Chula Vista, Calif., training at the amazing OTC complex. This program began in January 2013, and is the greatest difference in the sport of rugby in recent years.
“Its amazing to have that support,” smiled Ringgenberg. “I used to work two jobs to make sure that I could play rugby and afford to go on those tours. Being fully funded and being able to focus on my training is superb, and I think most people feel that way.”
The consistency in training and resident athletes often means that there isn’t a need like in 2009 to bring players up-to-speed during tournaments.
The program has also seen the average age of players drop since over the course of four years. Thirty year old Ringgenberg changes her expression for a moment when thinking “I went from one of the youngest in the 2009 squad to the oldest in 2013!”.
All rugby players make sacrifices throughout their careers, this being no different for Ringgenberg. She celebrated her marriage last year, but then quickly took up residency in Southern California without her partner.
“I am fortunate that my husband is insanely supportive, and we communicate really well. He understands that we’re going to do this until I’m done, then we’ll move on with life. It is really hard being completely focused on rugby and forgetting the rest of your life, but I think it’s been a great year for growth.”
There is, however, good news ahead for the Eagles sensation.
“I have been lucky because Ric (Suggitt) is going to let me move home and fly-in occasionally to train. I was getting to the point where I was having to choose between rugby and having a family life, so now I can have a little bit of both, which is nice,” said Ringgenberg.
Meanwhile, back in Moscow, the Women’s Eagles are ready for the challenge that lies ahead. They will face Brazil, Fiji and Spain during the pool stages on Saturday, June 29 at the Gorodok and Luzhniki Stadiums.
“Our goal is to win the World Cup!” stated Ringgenberg.
The world will be watching - and you can tune into Universal Sports on June 28 at 7:00AM E.T., June 29 at 1:00AM E.T. and June 30 at 1:30AM E.T. The match against Spain will be live-streamed by the IRB.
Women’s Eagles Sevens | Rugby World Cup 2013
1. Jillion Potter
2. Kelly Griffin
3. Vanesha McGee
4. Deven Owsiany
5. Kimberly Rozier
6. Ryan Carlyle
7. Victoria Folayan
8. Emilie Bydwell
9. Irene Gardner
10. Christine Ringgenberg
11. Nathalie Marchino
12. Kathryn "KJ" Johnson
Women’s Eagles Sevens | Staff
Ric Suggitt (Head Coach)
JoAnne Kos (Assistant Coach/Team Manager)
Nicole Titmas (Athletic Trainer)
Dr. Lisa Bartoli (Team Doctor)
Women’s Eagles Sevens | Schedule
USA vs. Brazil 2.28 AM E.T Saturday June 29
USA vs. Fiji 5.24 AM E.T Saturday June 29
USA vs. Spain 12.00 PM E.T Saturday June 29
USOC | Staff
John Crawley, USOC HP Director of Team Sports
Shawn Dolan, USOC Sports Dietician
Peter Haberl, USOC Senior Sport Psychologist