SARANAC LAKE - Fast-tracking to the top.
That's what Baylee Annis is experiencing in the world of rugby.
Just two short years ago, Annis was a senior at Saranac Lake High School and playing in her final season with the Adirondack under-19 team. Less than a month ago, she was starring on the pitch at Stanford University as the Norwich Cadets were making their run to a national collegiate championship.
Baylee Annis attempts to block a kick during action in Norwich’s Division II national championship match.
And just last week, Annis found out she'll be joining the top players in the country after being invited to a training camp with the United States Women's National Rugby Team. Annis said approximately 70 ruggers will be participating in the camp, which takes place June 29 to July 8 in Boulder, Colo., and 40 will be selected to compete on the national team, know as the Eagles, during a tour of Europe in November.
Growing up with rugby playing parents Jay and Stacey Annis of Lake Clear, the 20-year-old who just finished her sophomore year at Norwich fell in love with the sport at a young age. Now, Annis is an unexpected step closer to realizing her goal of being a member of the Eagles.
"Playing for the Eagles, that's been a dream in the back of my head since I was young," Annis said. "I didn't even know I was on the radar. I was absolutely blown out of the water. I was expecting to be playing on the U-23 territorial team. I've always wanted to be on the national team, but I figured that opportunity was still five or six years down the road."
Annis will be one of the youngest players that Eagles head coach Pete Steinberg and his staff selected for the camp, as the team prepares for the 2014 World Cup in France.
Steinberg is also the head coach of Penn State's women's ruggers and has seen Annis play both when the two schools collided on the rugby pitch and also at the national championships.
"Penn State is a Division I team. and we had a fun match with them," Annis said. "It was the first game of the spring; just to get the ball back in our hands. We only lost by five points."
In the Cadets' final match of the season, an 82-12 victory over Winona State on May 11 at Stanford's Steuber Rugby Stadium to clinch the Division II national crown, Annis scored for the first time this season, getting 10 points on a pair of first-half trys. As a prop, Annis isn't one of the players the team is relying on to score points. Her role is more about leading the forwards.
"Those were the only trys I scored this season, and getting them in the national championship game, that was awesome," Annis said. "As a prop, you're the leader of the pack. I don't know a prop that's timid or mild.
"I went to Norwich University to play rugby," she continued. "I wanted to be a national champion, and the program at Norwich is dedicated toward winning championships. I've never been on a team that relies so much on every player and every position. Playing rugby at Norwich has certainly laid the groundwork for me in getting to this camp."
Annis said that in Colorado, she expects to be working alongside the veteran Eagles props who are between the ages of 30 and 35.
"It's a big step as a 20-year-old prop," Annis said. "The other props there, they'll have loads of experience. At Norwich, our team is based on our speed and bursting ability, and that could be an asset for me at the camp."
Obviously, Annis would be "blown away" one more time this year if she is impressive enough at the camp and is chosen as one of the 40 Eagles who will cross the Atlantic in the fall for international matches. But if that doesn't happen, Annis said it's another step toward making that very same team in the future.
"I didn't go to any special tryouts, I didn't go to any special camps to be selected," Annis said. "I'm thrilled I got picked. I'm not going in with any expectations. It was chance I couldn't pass up.
"After this camp, the worse case scenario will be I'll know what I'll need to do to become and Eagle," Annis said. "I'm super excited. I'm a little nervous but so ready to go."