Clifford settles into rugby routine, eyes 2016 Olympics
She can thank rugby for the extra frequent flyer miles.
Clifford, 23, is a starting player for the U.S. Women’s Eagles Sevens rugby team that recently toured the globe for the IRB World Series.
Two years ago she was going to places like Lacey, Wash., Nampa, Idaho and Billings, Mont., with the Western Oregon University basketball team. Now she’s going to places she used to see on TV.
“My life has definitely changed a lot in this past year,” she told me. “I never thought in a million years I would be doing this.”
Take the time she was in Dubai.
“I remember being on the bus, looking out the window at camels on the road and just thinking, where the heck am I?” she told me. “Just the cultural experiences – they have made me appreciate my life a lot more. It’s all just been a roller coaster and I am just happy to be able to play this great sport.”
Clifford plays on the U.S. Women’s Eagles Sevens rugby team with Chugiak High classmate Alev Kelter, a former soccer and hockey standout at the University of Wisconsin. Both women logged tons of playing time during the World Series, where they proudly wore the Red, White and Blue.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Clifford said. “I can’t tell you how blessed I feel to be able to experience this amazing opportunity and how privileged I feel to be able to work hard and present the USA.”
Both Alaskans have already scored for Team USA, with both players finding the end zone during the competition in Amsterdam. Clifford scored on a breakaway, where Kelter cut through a gap in the defense.
The Americans are currently ranked seventh in the world, thanks to a strong 4-2 showing in Amsterdam, including a 27-12 victory over Russia in the Plate Final.
“We definitely had something to prove after China and we worked our tails off when we got back” [to the States], she said. “We played a lot better as a team and it worked out well for us. We hope that the growth we saw there continues and sends us on the right road into this next season because 2015 is very important.”
That’s because 2016 is an Olympic year. You have to like the chances of Clifford and Kelter making the team because they are in in Chula Vista, Calif., with the team at the Olympic Training Center.
“It’s definitely too soon to know any of that, but I look forward to trying my best every day so that the people on the team that do go to the Olympics are the best in the world,” Clifford said.