Tracy Poch knows the road to becoming a rugby Olympian at the 2016 Rio Games is a long one, filled with challenges.
The 2012 Waiakea graduate is chasing her Olympic dream to become the first Big Islander on the USA women’s 7s team.
She’s been steadily climbing USA Rugby Academy’s ladder, which is rife with stiff competition.
In November, USA Rugby and Serevi Rugby announced a partnership to grow the game, running training camps to identify and develop players for the national team.
USA Rugby, the national governing body, is built like a Major League Baseball organization with the Women’s Eagles 7s, the national team, at the top of the pyramid. Then there are the USA Women’s Eagles 15s, Collegiate All-Americans, Under-20 team, and the newly formed High School All-American team.
Serevi, a provider of on-field programming, has its own branch: the Serevi 7s. That deepens the pool with one more layer of Olympic hopefuls.
Poch is a member of the Serevi 7s, USA’s version of a second Triple-A team. She went to Atlanta last month to qualify for the team, and made quite an impression.
Women’s Eagles 7s coach Ric Suggitt, technical coach Richie Walker, and Serevi coach Emilie Bydwell ran the clinic, looking for potential national team talent with invitations to the summer’s elite camps.
The coaches said Poch, 19, traveled farther than anyone at Atlanta and “impressed with her strength and ability to read the game,” according to rugbymag.com.
“Tracy was a member of the USA Rugby Women’s Junior All-American nontraveling reserve squad for last year’s U20 Nations Cup in England and is still eligible for WJAA selection this year,” USA Rugby official Chad Wise said. “Should she continue her progress and get noticed by Women’s Eagles 7s coach Ric Suggitt, she could potentially be in consideration for the team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games.”
Poch has been invited to the USA Rugby/Serevi camp, which will be held in June at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, under the same coaches.
The only problem is Poch has to foot the entire bill, $875 for the weeklong residency camp, plus airfare.
She’s sponsored by Resolution Gym in Hilo, and is hoping other sponsors and community kokua jump on board.
“It’s a big chance to become an Olympian,” she said. “I’ve already spent two years up there. I have to stick it out and I’m the only one from Hawaii on the Serevi’s 7s. They had about 40 of us trying out and only two of us made the team.”
After she graduated from Waiakea, Poch moved to Utah and played in a rugby league, and later moved to California, where she went to USA team camps in Oregon and San Diego.
She returned home in January, working out at her gym to chisel her 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame and practicing with the Hilo Reign rugby men’s team.
Her brother, Suwaiter Poch, a Hilo senior, is on the USA High School All-American team that played in England and finished with a 1-2 record. Brendan Murphy, from Kailua-Kona, is also on the team.
Tracy Poch has come a long way since joining Hawaii Youth Rugby as a Waiakea senior, when the thought of being an Olympian was a stretch.
“I’m more confident and proved a lot to the point that the coaches see my improvement from 2012, when I was less experienced,” she said. “They looked at me for aggression, one person who doesn’t give up after a tackle. I’ve gotten more skills, speed, a stronger base and I’m really confident.
“Not everybody knows I’m on this track. It’s exciting to be where I am, but I humble myself about it. That’s what makes me train harder in the gym or at practice.”
To sponsor or help defray Poch’s expenses, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.