Recent Waiakea graduate Tracy Poch is a relative novice in rugby, starting the sport last December, but she stands a very good chance of being in the 2016 Olympics — if her progression rate continues to climb.
Seven-on-seven rugby will be reintroduced at the Rio Games in Brazil. Bui Baravilala, a 2009 Radford graduate from Oahu, is already on the U.S. women’s team. Poch hopes to join her.
Last month, Poch had a two-week tryout for the national USA Rugby under-20 national team at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Thirty-eight candidates competed for 26 spots, a numbers game that will squeeze much harder in the coming years.
But for now, Poch is in good shape, considering she started from the ground floor.
The Hawaii Youth Rugby state championships were held in late April at Hilo Bayfront. Poch led the Hilo Reign to the under-19 title. It was the first year for girls rugby on the Big Island.
The season started in December, and Poch, who competed in judo and wrestling at Waiakea, found a sport that suits her toughness. Rugby also taught her the value of team play.
“I’ve not always been a team player,” she said. “I was in individual sports. I won in wrestling, and I did jiujitsu and was undefeated in that. I was always an individual. That was always my personality.
“When I went up for the select team, I had to be a team player. I never met the other players. But it was a good experience, and I thank them for opening up my mind.”
Before the state championships, Poch played in a seven-on-seven tournament on Oahu, where word of her strong play reached the ears of the U.S. national team.
In the eyes of Sandra Elvin, one of her coaches on the Lady Reign, Poch’s toughness was evident from early on, and her skill development — shoehorning her physical play into a sport with unfamiliar rules — soon took shape in giant steps.
“She has a lot of aggression and is not afraid to hit anybody on the field. She’s the type of player if she gets hit, she gets right back up and keeps going. Her aggression and endurance are really powerful,” Elvin said. “It was a major accomplishment in March on Oahu with a second-place finish against some teams that have been playing together for years. She really shined when the scouts saw her. She really played like a true team player.”
After she graduated from Waiakea, Poch’s plan was to join the Navy. That’s been put on hold. She’s just waiting to hear from the USA Rugby under-20 team. Until then, she’ll head to a community college in Utah next month, where she’ll enroll in the spring semester and join a rugby club.
“I talked to some of the girls who made the team before. They said it takes a long time to confirm you’re on the team,” Poch said. “It’ll be another month. I’m nervous and excited. That would be the greatest honor ever to be on the 2016 Olympic team.
“It’ll take a lot of training. I’m willing to do that and make that commitment. That’s a lot of hard work but that’s my focus.”