Baylee Annis grew up watching and later playing in the Can-Am Rugby Tournament, and sometimes that meant watching the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team.
This year she won’t have much time for spectating — she’ll be on the field with the National Team.
“This is something I’ve been watching almost my entire life,” the Saranac Lake native said. “I’ve played on a couple different teams in the Can-Am, but to play on the National Team at my home tournament is the best thing I could imagine.”
The squad is holding a camp this week at the Olympic Training Center, and Annis is one of the invitees. The team will kick off the annual tournament with an intrasquad game today and also play the final game on Sunday. In between, the Can-Am will feature competition in multiple divisions in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Bloomingdale.
Annis’s father, Jay, is the tournament’s director, and her mom, Stacey, is also involved. Annis said she was first exposed to rugby when her mom, and later her dad, started playing. She said she began playing herself in eighth or ninth grade. She was a member of the Adirondack Barkeaters, and now she’s on the varsity team at Norwich, where she’ll be a junior this fall.
This week’s camp is designed to identify and develop players that could eventually be chosen for the National Team’s final roster.
Annis said she’s drawn to the unique atmosphere of the sport.
“I love the respect the teams have for each other. We can play, beat the crap out of each other and at the end of the day, we’re all friends,” she said. “Most of the teams you play, you know some of the players. That makes it even better when you play girls you respect, and then at the end of the game, you say ‘That was awesome. Let’s talk about what we can do better.’
“Not many other sports have that mutual respect or the social aspect.”
She added that she likes that the sport is welcoming, particularly to women.
“There are not many contact sports that are equal to men. I love that we play the same rules as the men,” she said. “We hit as hard as some men’s teams. A lot of people see us hitting for the first time, and it’s astonishing to them.”
But Annis said rugby is about more than the physical play for her; she also likes the mental aspect. She added that she knows girls whose parents were hesitant about them playing, and few girls have played for as long as she has. She credited her parents for encouraging and supporting her.
After today’s intrasquad match, tournament play will begin Friday. There will be men’s Premier, Club and Social divisions; women’s Premier and Club divisions; and three Old Boys divisions. The tournament will also include a game featuring men over age 60.
The tournament is in its 39th year, and Jay Annis said just over 100 teams are expected. Those will include several teams from the Mountaineers Rugby Football Club based in Saranac Lake as well as teams from across the Northeast and as far away as Colorado.
Jay said putting on the tournament is quite a task.
“It’s pretty much a year-round job,” he said. “There’s a seven-person board, and we all work together year-round to keep this going. The North Elba park district helps us out. A Saranac Lake village crew helps us, and the local Mountaineers.”
The tournament also relies on volunteers.
“Never enough,” he said. “But we have a good, dedicated crew helping out year after year.”
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