Eagle River rugby star keeps Alaska close to heart

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 13:32
  • Eagle River athlete Alev Kelter with family and friends following the first day of play at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 2017. (Photo courtesy Leyla Kelter)
  • Photo courtesy Leyla Kelter Alev Kelter, an Eagle River athlete and member of the USA Women’s Sevens rugby team, receives a temporary tattoo from a teammate’s daughter during the recent HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, earlier this month.

Though she’s one of the best female rugby players in the world, Alev Kelter always comes home to Eagle River.

“I try to not stay away more than three or four months,” she said by phone Sunday, heading back to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport after a whirlwind weekend spent filming in her hometown with World Rugby TV.

A 2009 Chugiak High School graduate, star dual-sport athlete at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and member of the USA women’s national and Olympic rugby sevens teams, Kelter’s rugby star has continued to rise since she began playing the sport in 2014. In 2016, hometown fans cheered in front of their televisions when she scored the first try for Team USA at the Rio Olympics. Earlier this month, she helped propel her team to victory over New Zealand, claiming fourth place in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“It was so amazing to play on home soil in front of family and friends,” Kelter said. “To be part of the tournament was a blessing.”

She caught a Friday-night flight to Anchorage to film a segment with World Rugby TV, showing the crew around the places she grew up, “my hometown and my people.” In the coming months, her schedule is full of tournaments and training camps and opportunities to represent her home state on an international pitch. She’ll head to Asia for the next leg of the world series, then come back north to lead an all-day youth training camp in Anchorage June 3.

In Alaska, the sport of rugby continues to gain slow but steady momentum – especially among younger players who now look up to Kelter.

“Absolutely it’s inspiring for the kids to see what Alev has done and what she’s doing,” said Rob Sackerson, an Eagle River coach with Alaska Youth Rugby. “She’s made for rugby and she’s awesome at it.”

Since beginning her sporting career as a standout high school athlete, Kelter’s received athletic accolades of all types: She was the 2008 Daily News Girls Athlete of the Year and captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team during the 2009 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship. She was the top scorer for the U.S. Women’s Sevens rugby team, the Eagles, throughout the 2015-16 season. But there’s another title she holds particularly close to heart.

“I’m defined by being Alaskan, and I’m really proud of that,” Kelter said.

She’s flown into airports around the world. Descending into Anchorage makes her the happiest – like she’s coming home.

“It’s familiar, it’s fun and I miss it a lot,” she said on her way to catch her flight back out Sunday. “I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I just miss it all the time.”

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated Team USA's place at the tournament in Las Vegas. 

Facebook comments