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Chicago Lions Claim ’23 Club 7s Trophy

  • 13 Aug 2023
Chicago Lions rugby

The 2023 USA Club Rugby 7s National Championship has a new titleholder in the Chicago Lions, which went 6-0 in Cottage Grove, Wis., and overcame a two-try deficit to triumph in the finale. Across the two-day event (Aug. 12-13), the Lions outscored opponents 177-27. Nineteen-year-old Ashley Cowdrey out of Sparta-Rock, Mich., and Davenport University was named championship MVP. [USA Rugby photo]

The Chicago Lions took the overall No. 4 seed into the tournament and headlined Pool D. The Midwest 7s Series champion shut out Dallas and NOVA by a combined 90-0, and then went toe-to-toe with Phoenix in round three. Team-leading point-scorers Cowdrey and Emma Hovanec dotted down for the Lions, and the Southeast opponent matched. Kelley Hirt’s boot was the difference, and the 14-10 win saw the Lions end Day 1 undefeated.

Boston (A), Chicago North Shore (B) and Camp Pendleton (C) also went 3-0 on Saturday, and they along with their pool runners-up (Cincinnati, Washington Athletic Club [WAC], HEB, Phoenix) advanced to Sunday’s Cup quarterfinals. The rest of the field filtered into the Bowl quarterfinals.

Three of the four Cup quarterfinals were shutout decisions: WAC beat Boston 36-0, Chicago North Shore blanked fellow Midwest rep Cincinnati 52-0, and Camp Pendleton eliminated Phoenix from title contention with a 17-0 win. The Lions allowed one try from Texas’ HEB in its 40-5 victory.

The Lions advanced to the final after shutting out 2022 national finalist WAC 14-0, and Camp Pendleton booked its spot with a 24-0 win against North Shore.

Both teams were making their first-ever appearance in the national 7s final. The Lions have been regulars at nationals and brought year-round, core players with championship experience. The roster also included summer additions like USA U20 Cowdrey and fellow DU Panther Aubrey Crist, and Sacred University’s Ashley Torres-Brown – all NCAA rugby players.

Camp Pendleton was a mix of Warriors – the club that burst onto the 15s scene this year and finished runner-up at the DII Pacific Super Regional Championship – and Rhinos Rugby Academy players. The San Clemente entity has not competed at 7s nationals before but a handful of residents wanted a runout this summer, so they linked up with the nearby Warriors. They shared resources and of course personnel, and won SoCal.

And nearly the national title. Captained by Katie Lohaus and powered by the hard-running of Salome Lewis and Meg Mambé, the Warriors scored less than a minute after kickoff. Lewis did the honors, and the conversion provided a 7-0 lead and early momentum.

The Lions knocked on the restart and the Warriors went back to work in good territory. From the scrum, Lohaus moved the ball wide, wrapped around Lewis and just took the corner for the try: 12-0 after three minutes. The Lions knocked on the restart again, and it felt like the game was going to open up as the Warriors set up for another advantageous scrum. But the Chicago side defended well and got some relief with a penalty. A set piece move off the scrum put the ball in Cowdrey’s hands. The USA U20 player fended the sideline defense and pulled away for a long try: 12-5 into the break.

Camp Pendleton’s second-half kickoff didn’t go 10 meters, and so the Lions reset with a scrum and split its backs. Cowdrey peeled off the back, worked the defense perfectly, and slipped through for a second try, 12-10.

The Lions built some momentum on defense and drove the game inside the Warriors’ 22. After a pair of penalties, Mambé was yellow-carded near the try line, and the Lions had their opportunity. But the dive for the try line was knocked on, and Lewis gained 30 meters off the subsequent scrum. Play halted after a Warriors’ knock-on, and as the scrum formed, the ref announced “last play.”

The Lions still had the yellow-card advantage, and they knew they had to maintain possession long enough to stretch the defense and build an overlap. Everyone spun the ball, took contact, secured the ruck, and then the final passage of play found Cowdrey out wide and with no one to beat – game-winning try. After the conversion attempt, the whistle sounded: 17-12 to the Lions.

WAC finished 3rd with a 17-14 win against North Shore. Phoenix took the Plate after a 26-5 win against Boston. San Diego shut out Slaughterhouse 34-0 for the Bowl, and the Oregon Sharks took the Shield in a 24-0 win against Atlanta. See the full list of scores.

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