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MVP Cook on Air Force’s Double-Title Season

  • 04 Jun 2019

It’s been a memorable year for the U.S. Air Force Academy, which won the USA Rugby DI College Fall 15s Championship in December and then defended its USA Rugby College National 7s Championship during Memorial Day Weekend. Sara Cook, who graduated last week and is readying for pilot training in August, served as captain and took home both championship MVP trophies.

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Teams that follow the fall 15s/spring 7s competitive format are in for a long year; however, that separation allows unfettered focus on each version of the game. Teams that play 15s in the spring – especially if they go deep into the playoffs – have to transition very quickly to 7s and consolidate all of its travel at the end of the school year. Virginia Tech, for example, featured in the spring 15s final, national DI 7s final and CRC 7s in less than a month.

“The most difficult part would be changing your mentality and speed of the game without losing your aggression and rugby skill,” Cook summarized the 15s-to-7s process. “Transitioning from 15s, where you hit the line hard until someone breaks through, to 7s, being patient to find the hole in the defense’s line, is challenging especially when it comes to newer players. Nonetheless, when it comes to the basics of it, it’s all the same and it’s easy just to tell everyone to go out there and play great rugby.”

Alex Ho photo (

It’s also easier to say when veterans like Cook, Adrienne Yoder, Jacqueline Hamby, Jess Beyer, Devin Doyle and Kaylee Eskeli are setting an expert example. This core knows about nationals and led the way during an impressive opening day in Tucson, Ariz. Placed as the top seed in Pool A, Air Force defeated Northeastern, Iowa State and UC Davis 108-0.

“Defense is definitely something our ladies focus on,” Cook acknowledged the three shutouts. “Coach Amy [Rusert] always emphasizes making our one-on-ones and coach Scott [Mears] had us repeat the mantra, ‘Defense wins championships,’ before each test of the tournament. I believe that each one of our ladies focuses on completing each tackle so the woman next to her doesn’t have to.”

Cook lauded the collective defensive effort from the team but reserved special praise for teammates Beyer, Hamby and Yoder, who always put in impressive hits and maintain the integrity of the line.

Alex Ho photo (

The Cup semifinals kicked off day two, and Air Force lined up against Princeton, which went 2-1 in Pool B after a 19-10 loss to Virginia Tech. The Tigers came out with vigor and scored the first try of the game through Coco Wallace.

“I’ve always been impressed with our team’s ability to remain cool under pressure but it shouldn’t be surprising since we are all kind of used to it because of the academy,” Cook thought on that early deficit. “The team has the ability to look at each other and reset in order to move forward and seek the try line. Freshman Elizabeth Laboe and Elexus Oliver both flourished when they were put on the spot on defense. For being young players in age and to the sport, they didn’t let the championship pressure get to them.”

Air Force rallied with six tries for the 32-5 win and advanced to the final against Virginia Tech, which defeated UC Davis 15-5 in its semifinal.

Alex Ho photo (

The Hokies had the first major advantage in the championship, as Yoder drew a yellow card near the five-minute mark. But Air Force withstood the onslaught, and when Yoder returned to the pitch, she made amends with a try and conversion: 7-0 into the break.

Virginia Tech drew in, as Nadja Ross scored midway through the second half (7-5), but then Air Force doubled the effort with two Yoder tries in two minutes for the 21-5 finale.

Cook was named championship MVP for the second time this season, and thanked coaches Rusert, Mears, Skip Shackelford and Chris Kosiavelon for enhancing the program’s competitiveness during her four years. Cook also acknowledged all of the alumnae who built the foundation from which the current team could build.

Sara Cook / Alex Ho photo (

“One of my favorite memories was hearing the final whistle after winning our spring 2018 7s championship and watching the whole team storm the field,” the captain thought on career highlights. “There’s a picture from it and it is by far one of the happiest moments of my life. Been my phone background for over a year now.”

Cook will have one more opportunity to don the Air Force kit when she joins the senior all-star team at the first-ever (for the women) Armed Forces Championship in Cape Fear this July. That experience will mark the end of Cook’s playing career – now that pilot training will become the focus for the next two years – but she plans to funnel that love of the sport into a support role.

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