Madison Hughes
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Madison Hughes: Nate Ebner has ‘decent chance’ at Olympics

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U.S. rugby sevens captain Madison Hughes believes New England Patriots safety Nate Ebner has “a decent chance” of making the Olympic team of 12 from a player pool about three times that size.

Hughes praised Ebner’s development since Ebner announced his return to rugby March 15, seven years removed from his junior national team days before he focused on football at Ohio State.

“He’s developed a lot,” Hughes said last week, after U.S. coach Mike Friday reportedly said in April that Ebner had “a 50-50 chance.” “I think he had quite a lot of rugby experience from when he was younger, and I think that’s allowed him to step into this stage, because I think if he didn’t have that rugby experience, coming in now he’d be completely lost and wouldn’t be able to handle it at all. So I think he’s been doing well. I think he’s been a good addition so far. Competition’s going to be hot for those spots for Rio. I know he really, really wants it. I think he’s got as good of a shot as a lot of people. I think he’s got a decent chance of being there.”

Ebner reached the top level of international rugby sevens when he was named to the 12-man roster for World Series stops in Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris in April and May.

However, Ebner was not named to the team for the last World Series stop in London, instead being put on a development-level tournament squad that weekend.

Still, Hughes likes what he has seen. An NFL player joining an experienced national rugby team four months before the Olympics had the potential to create animosity.

“The kind of attitude Nate came in with when he joined us, it’s a credit to him,” Hughes said. “I think that’s kind of helped allay some of those concerns. If he had come in and been like, OK guys, I’m here, don’t worry, I think there definitely would have been some disquiet on the team. But he kind of came in, just said I’m going to put my head down, I’m going to work as hard as I can, anything I can do to help the team, then I’m going to do that. I think, because of that attitude, the guys were quite accepting and welcoming.”

USA Rugby is expected to cut its Olympic player pool to 30 or fewer on June 24 and select the Olympic team of 12 on July 17.

Players received a short break after the World Series finale in London ended May 22 before gathering in Chula Vista, Calif., this month.

“There’s a bit of nervous energy, but I think as long as we keep that in a positive direction can be good,” Hughes said. “I think everyone knows that the people who are going to get picked put the team first. If you’re focusing just on what you’re doing, you’re only hindering your chances of making the team.”

Hughes was more confident in Ebner’s Rio chances than those of former San Francisco 49ers running back Jarryd Hayne, who announced May 15 he was joining Fiji’s player pool.

“He’s joined at a very, very late stage,” Hughes said. “He’s months behind Nate, who joined at a pretty late stage. And joining the No. 1 ranked team in the world [in Fiji]. That’s a very tough thing to do. Fair play to him, he’s an incredible athlete. He was an incredible rugby player in the [National Rugby League in Australasia]. But having no experience rugby union, no experience of sevens, I think he’s going to have a hard time making that team.”

Hughes also said that he expected Carlin Isles‘ high-ankle sprain suffered in March, which kept him out of the last five World Series stops, to not affect the speedster going forward.

As for Rio medal predictions, Hughes called two-time reigning World Series champion Fiji the clear favorite.

“For the last two years, they’ve been the best team consistently,” Hughes said. “You can never count New Zealand out. They’ve been there, or thereabouts, for the whole time sevens has been played internationally. South Africa are obviously very good. I think those are the top three, but then we are firmly in the pack chasing those guys.”

MORE: Record number of NFL players could compete at Rio Olympics

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang gets rare open hearing in doping case

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The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said Monday it will hear the World Anti-Doping Agency’s case against three-time Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang on Nov. 15 in front of reporters — possibly even live-streamed — at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace in Montreux, Switzerland.

The hearing won’t be completely open. Registration will be required, and photographers and videographers “will be invited to leave the hearing room after the opening,” CAS said in a statement. But those outside the room may still get a glimpse of the proceedings.

“With the agreement of all parties, it is intended to live stream all or parts of the hearing on the CAS website,” CAS said.

CAS noted that it has only held one prior hearing that wasn’t in a private setting — the 1999 case involving Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, who won three gold medals in the 1996 Olympics but was banned for four years for tampering with a urine sample, a case that still prompts soul-searching in the Irish media. De Bruin lost the appeal.

Sun is accused of smashing a vial of blood at a drug test last fall. FINA allowed him to continue to compete, but the WADA has appealed, seeking a substantial suspension.

The Chinese swimmer won two gold medals at the world championships this summer and snubbed by some rivals at each medal ceremony, leading to a confrontation with British swimmer Duncan Scott.

RECAP AND VIDEO: Sun taunts Scott after medal ceremony

Sun has won 11 world individual titles in several freestyle distances but also has a long history of controversies ranging from a prior positive drug test and confrontations with other swimmers.

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U.S. women’s volleyball team ends year with surprise loss to Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic surprised the U.S. women’s volleyball team in the final of the NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean) women’s continental championship Sunday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, winning the first two sets and regrouping after a U.S. rally to win the fifth set.

The final score of the back-and-forth match: 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 20-25, 15-9. The U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in three previous finals: 2011, 2013 and 2015. The Dominican Republic won a semifinal matchup on its way to the 2009 title.

In group play, the U.S. team had beaten the Dominican Republic in straight sets. The U.S. also breezed past Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico in group play and swept past Canada in the semifinals.

The loss doesn’t affect Olympic qualification. The U.S. women had already qualified for the 2020 Olympics by winning a qualification tournament in August in Bossier City, La.

MORE: U.S. women rally to qualify

Semifinalists Canada and Puerto Rico qualified for a last-chance Olympic qualifier that the Dominican Republic will host in January. Mexico defeated Cuba in the NORCECA fifth-place game to be the last of the four teams vying for one spot.

The Dominican Republic has had some success in women’s volleyball, finishing fifth in the 2014 world championships and reaching the 2012 Olympic quarterfinals before falling to the U.S. The team also won this year’s Pan Am Games, to which the U.S. did not send its top players. Currently, the team is ranked 10th in the world.

Earlier this year, the U.S. women had defeated the Dominican Republic in two tournament finals — the Pan American Cup and the NORCECA Champions Cup. The U.S. also won a matchup in the World Cup last month, but the Dominican Republic won another five-set match in the Nations League preliminary round in Italy.

The U.S. finishes the year with a 44-7 record in tournament play, including a first-place finish in the Nations League and second place in the World Cup.

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