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Iowa State Stuns Itself in 7s Nationals AQ

  • 19 Feb 2019

All photos: Emma Johanson

Iowa State didn’t enter last weekend’s Hawkeye Classic as a favorite. The team wasn’t supposed to win its pool even. But those predictions didn’t burden the Cyclones, as they embraced a positive attitude throughout the day – a day that ended with a tournament trophy and automatic berth to the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship.

“It was a bit of an upset,” said Allison Brost, who played a couple of years at UW Eau Claire before relocating to Iowa State for her PhD in microbiology.

“We were all really happy with our mentality at the tournament and agreed that was a large reason why we did so well,” the post-grad continued. “We were there to build each other up. Whenever you play rugby, you want to be confident, and we need to keep that. Of course, we’re serious and focused, but we want to have a good time. It’s why we’re here.”

Brost explained that Iowa State is in a rebuilding phase that began in the fall and got a boost from new coach Kelsie McDowell.

“Personally I really loved having a strong female role model as coach,” Brost said. “In my past I’ve only had male coaches and having that dynamic was really great. She’s got a great coaching style and taught us so much.”

Photo: Emma Johanson

Iowa State surprised itself during the fall 15s season, too, and was offered a berth to the fall quarterfinal play-in round, but had to decline due to injuries. There was a mix of disappointment and pride, but the experience built momentum for the spring pre-season. President and captain Emily Juhl and board members like Ana Elliott kept things like recruiting front of mind, while kinesiology major Mallory Hammitt crafted a solid S&C program to which the team committed.

Despite good numbers generally, Iowa State traveled to Saturday’s automatic qualifier with 10 players. But two minutes into its opener against Illinois State, the team found its groove and banked a 30-0 win.

“It was very rewarding for me to see the girls who hadn’t played 7s before and maybe preferred 15s – they lit up with excitement,” Brost said. “They realized how fun 7s can be, the faster pace, and were hooked.”

Photo: Emma Johanson

Notre Dame, the runner-up (to Penn State) in the Big Ten, was next.

“There was a lot of talk around the tournament that we were expected to lose to Notre Dame but we went in with the same mentality – smiling and encouraging each other,” Brost said. “The game was significantly harder than Illinois State, more back and forth.”

It was anyone’s game in the first half as the teams traded scores.

“We really focused [during the halftime chat], but we stayed positive. There was no scolding or singling anyone out,” Brost said. “That helped because having so many strong leaders in a group, that can be problematic sometimes. But there’s such a great give-and-take and camaraderie among the girls. … It’s very constructive.”

Photo: Emma Johanson

Iowa State did well to keep play in Notre Dame’s end for the remainder of the game, and big performances from Emily Dearden and Hannah Fultz helped the team to a 31-19 win. That’s when Brost noticed a shift in the team, as it realized that it was now in contention for a nationals bid. The Cyclones finished up pool play with a 42-0 win over Wisconsin and berth to the final against host University of Iowa.

On the other side of the bracket, host Iowa shut out Illinois, Northern Illinois, Purdue 116-0. Grace Estes, Hannah Gruenwald and Lucinda Williamson were all instrumental in the devastating attack.

Brost spoke to equal parts nerves and excitement in advance of the final, but it was Iowa that made the first mistake with a yellow card. The advantage allowed Dearden to score, 7-0, but it wasn’t long before Iowa evened it up. Gruenwald took a restart 80 meters for a try, and the conversion was good, too, 7-all. On the final play of the game, wing Jasmine Scott took the ball on the edge, evaded two pursuers and scored the go-ahead points, 12-7. The teams then returned to midfield, expecting another restart, when the whistle blew to Iowa State’s delight.

Photo: Emma Johanson

“Everyone was stunned,” Brost said. “It was an overwhelming sense of pride.”

It’s only been a few days since Iowa State’s friendly runout turned into a berth to the Division I 7s National Championship (May 25-26, Tucson, Ariz.), but there are plans to sit down with coach McDowell about fundraising and how practices need to evolve.

“It’s Tuesday so it’s still pretty fresh. … We’re still in the celebration phase right now,” Brost said. “But there’s definitely been a shift. We went into the tournament with the mentality of having fun and just playing rugby, and we ended up winning. We’re still working hard and now we have the motivation to be the best we can be.”

Photo: Emma Johanson

Details for the national 7s championships – there are three women’s college divisions this year – tend to evolve late in the season, but information will be posted here:


Allison Brost

Emily Dearden

Ana Elliott

Hannah Fultz

Mallory Hammitt

Emily Juhl

Madison Rousselow

Katelyn Sargeant

Jasmine Scott

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