Penn State eyes college rugby 7s national title this weekend
DENVER (AP) Caution: ''Human Sledgehammer'' at work. Big hits about to happen.
Penn State rugby standout Meya Bizer is known for her jarring collisions on the field, leading to her fitting nickname. There's even a compilation of her most ferocious tackles on Youtube that's been viewed more than 100,000 times.
This weekend, Bizer (pronounced BIT'-zer) leads the Nittany Lions into the USA rugby college sevens national championships in Denver. This after helping Penn State to a national crown at the college 15s championships two weeks ago in Georgia.
Today, the college scene. A year from now, maybe a spot on the U.S. team when rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
''You don't ever want to get tackled by Meya,'' said Pete Steinberg, who coaches the U.S. women's rugby 15s squad and was Bizer's coach at Penn State before taking a sabbatical during the 2014-15 season. ''It's an instinct for her to accelerate into the contact at just the right moment. She's probably the best in the world at it. She's an intimidating presence.''
Bizer grew up playing football in The Woodlands, Texas. She was a free safety and wide receiver in middle school before switching over to kicker in high school. She even joined the football team at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas, for a bit, before transferring to Penn State to concentrate on rugby.
At 5-foot-8, 158 pounds, Bizer can really pack a wallop. Her favorite all-time collision? No contest, when she took down a Stanford player who was running at full speed. Not just took her down, either, but lifted her off the ground with a blow to the midsection.
Until then, Bizer didn't know tackling was her strong suit.
''In that game, it really clicked for me,'' said the 22-year-old Bizer, who began playing rugby in high school. ''I was so hyped off that hit.''
The powerful hits have kept on coming and she's turned into a back-line force.
Still, this weekend will present some unique challenges for Bizer and the Nittany Lions. Chief among them, they haven't had much practice time to make the transition from rugby 15s to the faster-paced style of rugby sevens.
With fewer players on the field and featuring two 7-minute halves, it's a lot of sprinting and they can play up to four matches in a day.
There are 16 teams in the women's division, including Central Washington, the team Penn State beat in the final of rugby 15s on May 9. On the men's Division I side, the field consists of 24 squads. The tournament also features a 12-team men's Division II field.
''We don't have the full squad we'd like to have, because the seasons ran so close together,'' said Bizer, whose team raises money for travel since it's a club sport. ''But we'll be well conditioned. We'll be ready.''
Bizer's tough as they come, once breaking her nose in a game and popping it back into place as if it were no big deal. She also played last summer for the U.S. at the World Cup with a partially torn ligament in her knee. She was named the team's player of the tournament, too, Steinberg said.
While she's suiting up for Penn State this weekend, the U.S. team is in Amsterdam, trying to secure a spot for Rio in a qualifier. This summer, the plan is for Bizer to join the team in Chula Vista, California, for training. There are about 30 or 40 women attempting to make the Olympic team, which will consist of about a dozen roster spots.
''I try not to think about it too much because it's still a year away,'' said Bizer, whose major is psychology. ''I know I'm competing against other amazing athletes. It's intimidating to think about.''
Her nickname is pretty intimidating, too. Not only that, she has a highlight reel worth of hits to go with it.
''That reel on Youtube is a great example of her hitting college kids,'' Steinberg said. ''But we have hits of her doing that in international games, too. That's how we know she's as good as anyone in the world.''