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Local woman breaks barriers in international sports

DPS officer and Talavalu manager Annielyse G. Coffin  [photo: courtesy]American Samoa’s very own Talavalu Rugby Team that participated in the 2016 Oceania Sevens Championship Tournament held in Suva, Fiji last month. Standing far right is head coach Tommy Elisara and standing second from left is team manager Annielyse G. Coffin. (See story for full details).  [photo: courtesy]
Serves as manager of Talavalu during 2016 Oceania Sevens Tournament

Women are beginning to take on leadership roles and make breakthroughs all over the world, and American Samoa is no exception.

Just last month, Annielyse G. Coffin broke the barriers of international sports when she traveled to Suva, Fiji to serve as manager for the territory’s very own Talavalu Men’s Rugby Team during the the 2016 Oceania Sevens Championship Tournament.

First and foremost, Coffin is a DPS police officer. Many have seen her on the side of the road issuing tickets for commercial vehicles and roaming the streets for enforcement purposes.

That’s just her day job. Once the police uniform comes off, Coffin puts on her Sisters United Rugby gear and takes to the field, training and spearheading efforts to make American Samoa great through the formation of a women’s rugby league.

Last month, Coffin was granted what she calls a ‘golden opportunity’ to serve as team manager for Talavalu, escorting the squad to a two-day event that featured other great rugby teams from Tonga, Nauru, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea, to name a few.

The Pago Pago village native told Samoa News that although her role was an exciting one, it came with a tremendous amount of responsibility.

She reflected on her grueling schedule and said that her job was to ensure that everything was taken care of – from daily training schedules at the assigned fields and gym time, to hotel pool recovery, ice baths, and more field training. 

“The team had to be on time for breakfast, lunch and dinner as scheduled, including mandatory meetings before and after,” she recalled.

Coffin said the experience was priceless. She explained that no one knew the team’s schedule but her, as manager, and work for her started long before they departed the territory, to include setting up the itineraries and making sure that everyone on the team had all the necessary paperwork and documentation.

“Documents had to be sent first — on time — to the Tournament Directors in Fiji before the team traveled and if they didn't receive it on time, there is a penalty fee that has to be paid through the Unions,” she explained. “For these types of trips, it's not just: grab your passport and you’re on the go. Instead, it’s all about making sure your team is on time to each event they are scheduled to be.”

Coffin said that part of the preparations required her to ensure that all the players were mentally and physically set for the games.

She described her managerial role as being “a lot of fun.”

“It’s like you have all 12 players plus the coach to watch after,” she said.

On games days, it was Coffin’s job to be present for the infamous coin toss and ensure that the Talavalu players were in the tunnel five minutes prior to start time.

She said her experience was so surreal, as she was rubbing shoulders and seeing — in person — all the teams and coaches she’s used to watching on TV. This included not only the Australians, and teams from the Cook Islands and Samoa's world famous Manu Samoa, but also Samoa’s women's rugby team manager Filoi Eneliko and PNG Liaison Officer Elenoa Kunatuba.

The two-day event, said Coffin, made her realize that “no matter how good you are in skills and ball handling on the field, if you are not physically fit to play, you need to put in extra time and be committed with serious effort to become a better rugby player.”

She said, “What I witnessed in Fiji and what I gained as a manager for the boys, I will use to help make our American Samoa rugby teams (men and women), ready for any Oceania Sevens International Tournaments worth challenging and going for.”

Coffin said she looked at her position as a way to be a role model, “to represent the women of American Samoa and the Sisters United Rugby Club.”

She added, “Aside from looking at how hard it was, just being in the actual picture was an awesome experience.”

In Fiji, Coffin was the only female manager.

On the first day of the tournament, Talavalu played against Fiji in the first game and played a second match against Tonga. Talavalu lost both times. However, a third match against Nauru netted a win for American Samoa.

During the second day, Talavalu played against a more experienced team from Papua New Guinea and lost.

Talavalu also played against the Cook Islands, hoping to secure a chance to replay Tonga for a spot at the Hong Kong Sevens, but the Cook Islands team proved to be a fierce opponent.

Following the games in Fiji, the Talavalu squad moved up a notch in rankings, currently sitting in 7th place.

”I don't know if this will be my first and last time traveling with such humble young lads, but it was so much fun and I want them to know how grateful I am to have been their manager,” Coffin said.

Her message to the team: “I hope with the training and discipline we all shared, and with all the extra work we put in, that you all have gained a higher commitment to be better. Until next time… make it worth it. Make it happen.”

The Talavalu crew was led by head coach Tommy Elisara and the player roster was:

Ross Poyer (Captain), Aiotaota Vailolo (Vice-Captain), Alesanalesili Suiaunoa, Pesamino Poyer, Lino Iese, Siaosi Ponefasio, Faiaai Kerisiano, Iosua Amio, Senetenari Moesavili, Nu'ulaiti Aiava, Isaia Taylor, and Belasio Koroiadi.

A big “faafetai tele” goes to the ASRU board, Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga, Dept. of Youth and Women’s Affairs (DYWA) director Jonathan Fanene, and HC Fanene Edda Kava-Wyberski for their donations that made it possible for the team to travel to Fiji