Former field hockey player is Rio rugby hopeful

Jessica “JJ” Javelet, a former member on the USA National Field Hockey team, is making a comeback on another national team, aiming for a chance to represent her country in the Olympics.

Javelet, a local native and Torrey Pines High School graduate, is shooting for Rio playing an entirely different sport —she is currently a wing on the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens rugby team.

The 31-year-old Javelet, a sleek and swift 5’6”, took a route through women’s tackle football on her way to the bruising sport of rugby.

She is as new to rugby sevens as the sport is to the Olympics — this summer will mark its debut on both the men’s and women’s sides. Rugby fifteens was last in the Olympic Games in 1924 and the American men won the gold medal that year.

“It’s kind of crazy to be in the beginning of it,” Javelet said of Olympic rugby.

Javelet grew up in Encinitas and Rancho Santa Fe and played a variety of youth sports, including soccer, basketball, lacrosse and field hockey. After graduating Torrey Pines, she went on to play field hockey at the University of Louisville where she was a three-time All American, three-time Academic All American and NCAA Woman of the Year finalist in 2007.

After college, Javelet made the U.S. National Field Hockey team, where she competed from 2006 to 2009. After she failed to make the roster for the 2008 Olympic team, she played professional field hockey in Germany and coached at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

When her field hockey career came to a close, Javelet was looking for something equally competitive to get into so thanks to a friend’s suggestion, moved on to tackle football,. She played three years in the Women’s Football Alliance and won two championships with the San Diego Serge and Chicago Force.

Javelet played wide receiver alongside many great crossover female athletes who had never had the opportunity to play football before.

Playing football led to Javelet’s introduction to rugby as former sevens national coach Ric Suggitt recruited her after seeing her play. He invited her to come back to Chula Vista in 2014 to train with the team even though Javelet had never played rugby in her life — he recognized that she could be a dynamic rugby player.

“I’d never even seen rugby sevens, only fifteens, and I didn’t even know the rules,” Javelet said. “I was basically learning the rules while playing at a very elite level. It happened so quickly, it was just ‘Let’s throw you in there and see how you swim.’”

She played in her first international tournament three weeks after she started playing rugby, not entirely sure what was happening.

“They told me my goal is to get the ball and get away from everyone as fast as you can,” Javelet said.

There were some adjustments — every other sport she had played the ball was moved forward but in rugby it moves backward or laterally. While she had taken some hits in field hockey and football, she also had to learn how to tackle and be tackled without pads. And there were a lot of rules; in rugby they’re officially known as laws.

“I really loved playing football but the plays last four to eight seconds. I like the continual nature of rugby. It keeps on going and it’s really fast paced. It’s an extremely tiring sport and it’s super challenging, but in one game I’ve never felt so excited, scared, frightened and humbled.”

She said she remembers telling a teammate before one of her early matches just how nervous she was and the teammate replied that it was understandable, she was either going to score to get knocked out.

“It isn’t like that in field hockey,” she laughs.

As rugby players are in constant motion, the national players need to commit to elite training to stay fit, strong and fast. At the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Javelet is in residency full time and is paid to remain. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. she is training with the squad — a typical day includes meetings, practice, conditioning, recovery, lunch, watching film, weight training, more recovery, more practice and more conditioning.

It’s stressful, strenuous work and a tough full time job she’s held since 2014 but she says she wouldn’t trade it for a desk job.

Right now there are 24 women in the U.S. team player pool. That group will be cut down at the end of March and then to the final Olympic roster of 12 players in July. Injuries play a big role as rosters are whittled and the goal is to continue to stay healthy. Javelet tore her ACL in 2014 and successfully survived the long, grueling recovery process.

“When you overcome that, you feel like you can do anything,” she said.

Next up for Javelet and the national team is The Atlanta 7s, an international rugby tournament and the U.S. stop on a global tour featuring 12 of the best women’s sevens rugby teams from around the world on April 8-9. They will follow that back to back with the Canada Women’s Sevens in British Columbia April 16-17.

After experiencing the disappointment of not making the Olympic team for field hockey, Javelet said to have a chance for a comeback is unbelievable.

“It would be the realization of a childhood dream, it’s kind of surreal to be this close,” Javelet said. “It would mean so much to have the opportunity to represent the country and try to bring back a medal to make my family, friends and country proud.”

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