Photo: Mike Lee / KLC fotos
After winning two medals and reaching their No. 2 world ranking, the Women’s Eagles Sevens will compete in the fourth tournament of their six round Olympic qualifying season at HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens 2019, April 19-21 (based on Eastern Time). Matches are broadcast LIVE on facebook.com/worldrugby7s.
The Women’s Eagles Sevens finished third at HSBC Sydney Sevens after going 2-1 in pool play and falling to World Cup Champions New Zealand in the Cup Semifinals.
Opening the tournament against China, the United States fought a well-contested battle where debutants shined to reach a 26-10 victory. Spain put up a fight in the second match, capitalizing on excessive USA penalties in the second half to win 14-21. The Eagles Sevens came back against home-team Australia with a first-half shutout that contributed to a close 19-12 result, sealing a berth in the Cup Quarterfinals.
Sydney’s notorious heat wave struck the USA and Russia in the knockout rounds where the U.S. remained resilient to sneak by 7-5 and make the Semifinals. World Cup Champions New Zealand were tough to control, however, and the United States fell 5-29.
In the Bronze Final, the USA showcased the power of their offensive side, halting a comeback from Ireland to win their second medal of the season 26-10. Reaching the podium matched the Women’s Eagles Sevens record for most medals won in a single-season with three rounds still to go.
In an improved position of second in the rankings, the U.S. is 12 points behind first-place New Zealand, with a two-point lead over both Canada and Australia who are tied at third. France is in fifth-place and 16 points behind the United States.
Each tournament, the Women’s Eagles Sevens grow in breadth and depth with players who are fast becoming some of the most consistent try scorers of the Series.
Last stop, Kristi Kirshe torched the playing field by scoring five tries in her debut tournament after playing rugby for less than a year. Ilona Maher debuted last season in Paris and has since scored 12 World Series tries with an intimidating combination of speed and power.
Veteran Naya Tapper was unstoppable as well in scoring her 65th try and passing 2016 Olympian Victoria Folayan to become the USA’s all-time leading try scorer. Equally impressive with ball in hand are Kris Thomas and Cheta Emba who both have seven tries apiece this season.
Kayla Canett will feature for the first time this season after competing in two World Series stops last year in Langford — where the USA won Bronze — and Paris.
Alev Kelter, Jordan Matyas, Meya Bizer, Nana Fa’avesi and Co-Captains Nicole Heavirland and Lauren Doyle complete the 12-player roster for Kitakyushu.
The USA is drawn in Pool C, facing eighth-ranked England, tenth-ranked Fiji and sixth-ranked Ireland at Mikuni World Stadium.
England and the Eagles Sevens have met twice this season in tightly contested matchups where the English prevailed each time by only one conversion. Fiji will play the U.S. women for the first time since Paris Sevens 2018 where the United States won with a decisive 28-7 result. Ireland will be inclined to rectify their aforementioned loss in Sydney Sevens Bronze Final last stop.
On the highs and lows of reaching a second-place ranking…
“This season, we’ve put a huge focus on our understanding and awareness in rugby, culture and learning more about ourselves. One of the most important things we’ve experienced in competition is finding ways to get a result even if the circumstances look ugly. Embracing the pressure of our own expectations is one of the hardest things for us and we need to avoid limiting ourselves as we build into Kitakyushu. If we commit to the principles we’ve embedded in the past several months, and enjoy the process, I have no doubt we’ll be satisfied with the outcome.”
On the depth built this season…
“We’ve had a number of players step up this season which is what all coaches hope for, especially 18 months out from the Olympics. It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves, however, and remember that with less experience there will be tough games and sometimes even tougher tournaments as our newer players learn all that comes with international competition. We hope that 18 months will be enough to develop the right habits and create significant awareness of attributes our athletes can use as we build towards Tokyo 2020. But first, we need to qualify.”
Embarking upon the second half of their Olympic qualifying season, the Women’s Eagles Sevens have an opportunity to make history by finishing in the top four of the Series for the first time. Having already matched their all-time high of winning two medals within a single season, the depth of new and veteran players will be the ultimate resource in overcoming resilient teams like England, Fiji and Ireland in the pool rounds.
*All players are part of the Women’s Eagles Sevens residency program
Lauren Doyle (c)
Nicole Heavirland (c)