Throwback Thursday: reminisce to rework

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One of the first Women’s Eagles ever capped when the program began in 1987, Kathy Flores brought more to the table than a lengthy coaching career. Before the Eagles won their ’91 title, she and her national team teammates had to do more than just throw the ball and tackle opposition. In some ways, they were coaching themselves mid-game.

Fast forward 10 years, and the overall player pool had received more guidance in how to play the game. Flores was a domestic coach in California when her time with the Eagles ended in 1994. Working with athletes aspiring to represent their country in international competition showed her there were ways to improve the processes of selection, which was something she made a priority when she was named head coach in 2002.

“We were trying, as much as we could, to have better communication between the players and staff,” she recalled.

Even before an Eagles team assembled, it was important athletes knew what was expected of them. With the Inter-Territorial Tournaments a main driver of selection – being that they offered selectors the ability to evaluate hundreds of players at a time – and an improving under-23 program – led by Martha Daines – Flores made sure the communication between the Eagles’ coaching staff and players and coaches across the country alike was benefitting the national team.

“Trying to involve the ITT coaches by asking them about players and taking some of their recommendation in order to invite a pool of players to come forward,” Flores said of her early priorities. “We would work with the under-23s in terms of the players they were looking at to see how we could elevate those players into the national team. There was somewhat of a pipeline going but I don’t think it was very clear.

“We also wanted to get our strength and conditioning better. We wanted to make sure we gave feedback and do some of the things I think coaches don’t always have the time to do because it isn’t their main job. We tried to have a few more assemblies where we tried to see the same people over and over, but maintain a core of about 40 or 50 players we saw on a regular basis.”

The player turnover following the ’02 World Cup was not as sizable as in previous years, and the continuity Flores kept in the side paid dividends after an 0-2 Churchill Cup tournament in 2003. Twenty-seven different players featured in the two matches against Canada and England – the only two matches of the year for the program – while only nine changes were made to the ’04 Churchill Cup squad, which beat Canada after a shutout defeat to the all-powerful Black Ferns.

Influential front-rower Jamie Burke, now the nation’s all-time caps leader, was one of the stars unearthed in the early years of Flores’ tenure. As the Eagles went into an off year in 2005, the depth was building and the team looked towards another UK Tour.

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