Baylee Annis was recently named to the USA Eagles squad that competed in Canada Super Series at the end of last month. We did a little Q&A with her to find out more about her passion for rugby and what it is like playing at the elite level, check out what she had to say!
Q1: How did you get started in rugby? How old were you when you started playing?
Rugby was a constant presence in my childhood, as both my parents started playing when I was about eight years old. I played noncontact flag rugby during halftimes for a few years before I was finally allowed to play contact at age 14.
Q2: What made you want to pursue rugby at a higher level and what did you find the most challenging part of attaining that goal?
I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to play rugby for the national team, and ensured that rugby remained a priority, alongside academics. When applying to colleges, I knew that I wanted to play rugby at a high level university and I searched for schools that had hard-working programs that valued the sport over socializing. After my sophomore year, I had my first invitation to a USA Rugby tryout camp. The next three years I focused my effort on making that team. The hardest part for me was the changes in lifestyle I needed to make: my nutrition and training program needed some work. I still struggle with being strict in what I eat, but I’m always working to get better!
Q3: What do feel rugby has taught you outside of the game itself?
Of the many teachings stemming from the game, the one that I’ve held on to is that laughter and camaraderie are conduits for connected play—the team that enjoys one another off the field, dominates on the field. Take the time to relax and have fun with your teammates.
Q4: What words of advice would you give to a youth player who wants to play at a higher level?
To any growing ruggers, the advice I would give is to find a player to look up to and reach out to them. High level rugby players are especially receptive to developing athletes and we love to help out the next generation of players. A second bit of advice: find activities and workouts that support your rugby technique, when you hit a plateau physically or mentally (like we all do), play those little competitive games that help you take your mind away from rugby. Ping Pong is a personal favorite, and it’s actually helped my reaction time improve!
Q5: Out of the many position you have played, which is your favorite and why?
Tight head prop, where I’m playing currently. I’ve learned to love the technique required to beat your opposition, it’s such a mental game.
Q6: Do you have a pre-game ritual? Favorite pump-up song? Must have snack?
I visualize before every game, even during fun, non-competitive games. I end my visualization session with a recollection of all the fields I’ve played on, and the field I’ll step on that day. It really helps calm my nerves. I like to listen to the preparation my team and tend to not use music. My pre-game meal varies, but almost always includes berries and snap peas if they are growing in-season.
Q7: You were chosen to join the Women’s Eagles this summer to play in the Nations Cup in Canada. Tell me about that experience.
The experience was incredible. The selected team was quite young and included 13 new caps in our first match alone. Against all odds, we clicked as a group and I played more games and laughed more those two weeks than I have with any other group. The tour as a whole was incredibly enlightening. I was able to play and hang out with some amazing players, several of whom attended the World Cup last summer. Playing alongside them has been so motivating!
Q8: What is next for you after this summer?
This fall I’ll be moving back to upstate to train locally in Saranac Lake. My focus is to prepare for the camp we have in January 2016 that will be the main deciding camp for the 2017 World Cup pool of players.
Q9: What is your favorite rugby moment from your own career?
My favorite moment thus far was the first play of my international career in our game against England. After my first tackle, a ruck collapsed and I found myself on the ground face to face with an English player—a teammate and the captain of the team I played for when living in England. With a dirt smeared face, she gave me a grin and a nudge as I jumped up to rejoin my team. That moment was such a great way to begin my first cap.
Q10: In one word, describe what rugby means to you, then explain why you chose that word.
Remarkable. The speed, power, grace and intensity of the game. The people of the game. The love for the game. The respect we all have for the referees, opponents and teammates. It’s all pretty amazing.