From Abbotsford Rugby. A total of 41 BC provincial age grade rugby players will head South on Wednesday to defend titles in the Elite and Open divisions of the Las Vegas Invitational High School Sevens. For Abbotsford’s Spencer Miller, this will be his fifth straight appearance for the BC Elite Youth Sevens, a program created to identify and develop athletes who will go on to represent Canada in future international tournaments.
Led by head coach Shane Thompson, the BCEY7s program is now in its third year of competing in international youth tournaments and has already supplied six players to Canada’s entry into the 2011 Youth Commonwealth Games as well as graduating Abbotsford’s Justin Douglas, an 18-year-old currently competing on the International Rugby Board’s Sevens World Series circuit.
“Spencer is one of the athletes who has probably gotten the most out of our sevens program in terms of training and tours,” said Thompson. “He came around at exactly the right time.”
Miller first impressed Thompson at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games in Kamloops where the team went undefeated and downed Saskatchewan 41-5 in the gold medal match. The Yale Secondary standout was especially dominant in the final, recording four tries and accounting for nearly half the team’s points in the win.
During the 2012 BC Elite Youth Sevens season, the Yale Secondary standout was the only player to travel to all three international tournaments. Miller excelled at the Vegas Invitational with the BC-2s who lost just once in the tournament, to their fellow provincial reps BC-1s. Two weeks later, Miller was bound for Hong Kong where he was the youngest player on the provincial side that went undefeated at the Standard Chartered Bank Youth Invitational Sevens. His third and final tournament with the BCEY7s program was in Victoria, where the BC-3s (U17s) won the Bowl at Centennial Stadium in July.
“Spencer is a prime example of how if there is a system or structure in place, these athletes will improve in their understanding of sevens and how to play it,” said Thompson, himself a former national sevens coach and player. “The amount of sevens experience Spencer has had as an 18-year-old is probably more than anyone in Canada has had at his age. He has done more training and played in more tournaments than anyone before him.”
For Thompson, it’s been rewarding to see a young player through the pathway excelling in the abbreviated, high tempo version of the game.
“To me, this is the goal – to provide a top notch program with a structure to help these young athletes improve from year to year,” Thompson added.
It’s tournaments like the Vegas Invitational that will allow Miller to further hone his skills as he prepares to graduate to senior men’s rugby this coming summer.
“Spencer is an exciting young athlete and has the ability to be a game-breaker,” added Thompson. “Although he has improved over time and is very explosive, he still needs to learn when to have a go on his own and when to distribute the ball to his team mates. After all, the higher up we go in sevens, the more important it is to work within the team structure and team concept. But within that structure, it’s fantastic to have electric players like Spencer who give this team so many options to work with.”
Out of the 10-player BC roster at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games, nine of the reps have been selected for this year’s squad headed for Vegas. The list includes Evan Cambridge (Castaway Wanderers), Giuseppe Du Toit (Cowichan), Marshall Fuller (Capilano), Harjun Gill (Richmond), Spencer Loughlin (Abbotsford), Spencer Soltan (Cowichan), Tomasi Vataiki (Bayside) and Luke Zandbergen (Surrey Beavers).
BC will be entering four teams into this year’s tournament – two in the Elite High School and two in the Open High School divisions. Competing in the Elite division, BC-1 has been pooled with national reps High School All-Americans 2, Ontario and Washington State Loggers. BC-2 will be pooled with the High School All Americans-1, Utah Cannibals and Dog River Howlers.
The BC-3 and BC-4 teams are set to feature many of the Under-17s debuting on a provincial sevens squad for the first time. The two teams will be in a 24-team competition featuring sides from across North America.
Tournament play is set to begin on Thursday, February 7th with all games to be played at Heritage Park (350 S Racetrack Rd) in Henderson. Saturday’s schedule for the Elite division will shift to Star Nursery Fields (7000 E Russell Rd – at Sam Boyd Stadium), in Las Vegas.