Scion, D.C. Furies and NOVA are heading to New York City to represent the Mid-Atlantic at the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship. The Furies, which haven’t featured at nationals since 2014, won the final qualifier last weekend in Philadelphia and will work that momentum during the final three weeks of preparation.
Mike McMillon joined the D.C. coaching staff in spring 2017, and this summer marks his first involvement with the 7s program. The team wanted to return to nationals after a four-year hiatus, and welcomed McMillon’s suggestion for an earlier start to the season. As early-May fixtures were penciled onto the calendar, a healthy dose of good fortune and an active recruitment strategy bolstered the returners’ ranks.
“While I’ve coached and played for a while, my background is in sports and fitness management, and I really like the recruitment aspect,” McMillon said. “We reached out to players who have been MIA the last year or two as well as 15s players who never took a crack at 7s. They’ve been the difference-makers for us this summer.”
McMillon called Arielle Reid a breath of fresh air. She’s been with D.C. a couple of years and played on the DII 15s team, and so the coach was well aware of her impressive work rate and defensive prowess. Now the team knows how dynamic she is on offense. McMillon also pointed to Gloria Cho as a new player to watch. The coach described the William & Mary scrumhalf as an Energizer Bunny, “small, but packs a punch, whether with ball in hand or defensively.”
Lauran Glover (Photo: Tom Weishaar / Boathouse Sports)
Lauran Glover was nominated as captain right away, and McMillon praised the Armed Forces 7s representative as a natural leader. Katy Stewart also shares captainship duties, and has made her return to D.C. from California an impactful one. McMillon marveled at Stewart’s “relentlessly positive attitude” and credited the co-skipper’s work rate. Sharifa Love, Maggie Olney, Gussie Maguire, Leni Dworkis, Kristen Maxey and Rian Van Nordheim also provide veteran leadership.
D.C. fielded up to three teams at sometimes concurrent tournaments, and those numbers allowed flexibility and the option to experiment with combinations. And then a couple of weeks ago, McMillon noticed a shift in the team’s attitude.
Katy Stewart (Photo: Tom Weishaar / Boathouse Sports)
“We switched some things around at practice and it hit the mental buttons more than anything, as opposed to something super structural,” McMillon said. “That mental push put in us in a great position for last weekend. From the first kickoff, I knew the team had grown from one with a lot of potential and very good athletes to just one solid side.”
Saturday’s Philadelphia 7s was the third MAC qualifier, not the region’s championship, per se. The Mid-Atlantic held three equally weighted tournaments and overall standings determined the three teams to nationals.
D.C. had some concerns, however, as four experienced players were unable to travel (injuries and last-minute work obligations), leaving 11 first-side members available. A day-of injury saw the Furies enter knockouts with 10 players, a stresser considering the heat and level fo competition.
Nevertheless, pool play went well, as D.C. beat Philly 33-0 and NOVA 2 47-0. The team did lose 17-0 to Scion Woo, but McMillon called that performance the team’s best defensive output all summer. The Furies then bested NOVA 28-0 in the semis to earn a berth to the final.
Both NOVA and Scion entered two sides into the competitive bracket, and Scion played itself twice on the day. Heading into the final, D.C. was concerned that Scion Woo would have fresher legs but actually set the tone for the championship early on.
“It was funny. Just as the ball was being kicked off, I turned my head for 3-4 seconds to say something to another player. When I looked back, Lauran was running through a couple of gaps to score,” McMillon recounted.
Scion answered back minutes later, and then Olney and Cho scored on either side of halftime. With Olney’s two conversions, D.C. led 19-7. Scion put down another converted try before Olney and Glover dotted down their second tries of the final. The final try evolved after Judy Dickson planted a big hit off the restart and Glover was there to scoop up the turnover for the score, 29-14.
Photo: Tom Weishaar / Boathouse Sports
“It looks good in a story that the Furies beat Scion, because people know Scion, but we played a great level of rugby against everyone last weekend,” McMillon said. “So it wasn’t so much about us rising to the occasion against Scion but playing outstanding rugby against everyone we saw.”
Nevertheless, a win over the 2016 national champion is a nice way to end the qualifier season. Scion takes the top seed, having won the first two MAC qualifiers, D.C. takes the second and NOVA – the only team to compete in all eight of the women’s club 7s national championships – the third.
“This is a really fun side,” McMillon closed. “We surprised some teams this summer and won some social tournaments. We competed well at qualifiers, and last weekend we showed what we’re capable of doing. It’s cliché to say but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. We have a couple more weeks to polish and come to nationals with a full side. The team is ready and excited, and I can’t wait to watch them.”
DC FURIES @ PHILLY 7s
1. Jaimie McFarlin
2. Judy Dickson
3. Maggie Olney
4. Gloria Cho
5. Katy Stewart
6. Arielle Reid
7. Lauran Glover
8. Chia Martino
9. Michelle Vander Ploeg
10. Angela Cole
11. Liv D’Aliberti