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Jillion Potter makes U.S. rugby team, 14 months after cancer diagnosis

Jillion Potter

poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on November 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Harry How

Jillion Potter took another step in her comeback from cancer, making the 12-player U.S. rugby team as captain for the Women’s Sevens Series season opener in two weeks in Dubai.

She also proved U.S. soccer legend Abby Wambach right.

Potter, 29, was a key cog in the U.S. sevens team when she was diagnosed with stage III Synovial sarcoma in September 2014, three months after waking up with swelling underneath her jaw, what she later learned was a cancerous tumor.

As Potter began fighting the rare, soft-tissue cancer, she received an email on Oct. 6, 2014, at 1:56 p.m., with Abby Wambach as the sender’s name. Potter at first thought it was a joke.

“Some sort of scam,” she recalled, laughing, on Tuesday.

It wasn’t. Potter said she later came to believe that one of her rugby teammates knew one of Wambach’s soccer teammates.

Potter saved Wambach’s email, pulled it up on her phone Tuesday and read it aloud.

“If I know one thing about rugby players, it’s that they are the baddest players out there,” Wambach wrote. “You can beat it no doubt.”

It touched Potter, who expressed her thanks then and also said on Tuesday that she was excited to update Wambach on her progress.

“I thought about if I made the squad for Dubai, or something like that, when things are rolling pretty rapidly, that I would shoot her an email,” Potter said.

USA Rugby announced the Dubai roster from a 24-player national-team pool Friday.

The first U.S. Olympic women’s rugby team, which will be chosen next year before the Rio Games in August, will, like the team Potter just made, include 12 players, putting the Dubai team members in strong positions to become Olympians.

“It took a while for me to get back,” Potter, who started playing rugby while at the University of New Mexico a decade ago, said before the Dubai team was chosen. “I feel like I’m on the right track to Rio.”

Potter returned to training in April, after 18 weeks of chemotherapy and two months of radiation, with an eye on returning to international competition by the end of 2015 and making the 2016 Olympic team.

“Besides the whole cancer thing, I had a great year last year,” Potter said. “I’m still the same athlete. Hopefully I’ll be a better player.”

This season’s Women’s Sevens Series includes four legs, a reduction from six last year and 10 for the men. The U.S. women finished fifth in last season’s Sevens Series and qualified for the Rio Olympics by winning a continental qualifier June 14.

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