CHULA VISTA, CALIF. -– Kristi Kirshe '17, a former standout soccer player at Williams College, is one of 24 women athletes who will train full-time as part of the USA Women's Eagles Sevens Residency Program at the U.S. Olympic Training Site in Chula Vista, Calif. Players will be available for selection for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 and PanAm Games 2019 with the potential to also compete in developmental Falcons tours.
The roster includes 19 players who have made appearances on the Sevens Series circuit with five who still seek their national team debut. Of those five are Kasey McCravey, Kate Herran, Kristi Kirshe, Nikki Kenyon and Eti Haungatau. Haungatau is the youngest player in residency at only 18 years old while McCravey and Kirshe will look to make their debut at Sydney Sevens 2019.
USA Rugby also noted Kirshe's selection was a result of her "performing well at the recent Club Sevens National Championships and being named to the Dream Team while representing Northeast Academy in the summer's National Academy Tournament. Kirshe also recently competed with the Women's Falcons at the Hokkaido Governor's Cup last September."
Kirshe, who holds Williams women's soccer records for most goals in a season (18) and most goal sin a career (43), lettered all four years as a forward for Eph head coach Michelyne Pinard, twice earning All-America honors.
Kirshe has only been playing rugby since February 2018 when she joined the Boston Women's Rugby Club at the suggestion of a high school friend.
In just 11 months since being introduced to rugby, Kirshe has resigned her position at the prestigious Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray and has become a full-time contracted athlete with USA Rugby. She now lives and trains in Chula Vista, Calif. "This It is an incredible opportunity and such an amazing experience," Kirshe said. "There is nothing quite like getting the chance to chase dreams that you've had since you were a kid and that is exactly the opportunity I have here."
|Kristi Kirshe '17|
Kirshe recalls originally she wasn't sure how trying rugby would turn out, "I was slightly hesitant at first, because I had not tried a new sport since I was like 10 years old, but I am sure glad that I decided to try it out," she said. "Once I started playing, I was instantly hooked. We started with indoor practices that winter and I knew absolutely nothing about the sport or the rules when I first showed up. Quite honestly, things did not start clicking for me until I was able to play in my first scrimmage in March. Once I played a few games with Boston, some of my friends recommended that I come with them to a try out for Northeast Academy, one of the National Development Academies. After a few tours with Northeast I was able to get my chance out here at the Olympic training center."
While many women who have played rugby far longer than Kirshe has might be surprised that in less than a calendar year she could go from trying the sport to National Team selection her soccer coach at Williams Michelyne Pinard is not surprised. "Kristi is an incredible athlete, amazingly fast, quick, and powerful a helpful trifecta when you're transitioning to the world of rugby," said Pinard. "Combine that with her love of competing and you have a woman who is capable of being named to the USA Rugby Sevens team only a year after she started playing the game."
"I think that soccer equipped me incredibly well for rugby," stated Kirshe. "The soccer background has been incredibly useful in my special-awareness and my ability to defensively track players much like one would in soccer. I also think that my soccer experience has been an incredible useful background in my ability to change directions quickly and evade defenders one on one."
While soccer was the sport that Kirshe played most growing up she also played other sports too. "I also think that playing basketball and lacrosse through high school, and playing Pop Warner football as a kid primed me incredibly well for rugby," she said. "It is almost like every sport that I played growing up has given me something that translates into my rugby career."
Eph teammate, classmate, and former goalie and now Eph assistant coach, Tressa Palchek '17 is also not surprised at Kirshe's rise in the rugby world. Palchek admitted she never calls Kirshe by her first name, because to her is just "Kirshe."
"I'm so excited to see Kirshe extend her athletic career," Palchek said. "I'm not really surprised that Kirshe is so successful at rugby because she is one of the fiercest competitors I know and she just loves sports. Rugby seems like a sport that was built for her - she's a strong and powerful athlete, a quick learner, and committed to team - and it's so exciting to get to see her compete at such a high level for a living."
Palchek added, "Kirshe was a great teammate and a great example of holding herself to high standards, both on and off the field, and I'm sure that is why she has found such quick success in this new sport."
Kirshe laughed when asked if she would wear the Eph women's soccer team trademark full body cow suit that they wear to the Final Four on her trip to Australia, stating, "My cow suit is actually back in Williamstown being passed down through the team as they continue that incredible tradition."
"My rugby experience has overall been an absolute whirlwind," noted Kirshe. "I can honestly say that when I graduated from Williams I thought that my days as a competitive athlete were over. I never knew that a sport that I picked up for fun would be the sport that changed my life or the sport that gave me the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream in representing my country."
"I honestly think that rugby is the ultimate team sport because you have to rely on teammates to have your back at every moment and be willing to put your body on the line for each other," Kirshe said. "Whether it is being there to support you when you get tackled or being there to make a tackle that you miss, you need to trust that your teammates will be there for you and that you will be there for them."
"I am thankful to all my friends, teammates, and my family that have supported me and that have pushed me along the way so that I could be here today. This is truly a dream come true and I am so excited about it."
The Women's Eagles Sevens will next compete in the third round of the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series at HSBC Sydney Sevens Jan 31-Feb 3. Currently sitting in third-place, the team will need to conclude the season in the team will need to conclude the season in the Top 4 in order to automatically qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The Sydney Sevens will be streamed live on facebook.com/worldrugby7s.
Jan. 31 – USA vs. China - 9:28 PM EST
Feb. 1 – USA vs. Spain -- 12:12 AM EST
Feb. 1 – USA vs. Australia – 2:56 AM EST
The schedule for teams advancing out of pool play is located here: