It’s a daunting commitment moving from Division I to the Women’s Premier League (WPL), so when Atlanta crossed over in 2013, the Harlequins devoted its energies to the elite competition. That focus diluted the intensity of the summer 7s season, but after a few years of social play, a pair of influential players revived Atlanta’s taste for competitive 7s. The Harlequins built some momentum at last year’s Club 7s National Championship and return with even more confidence as the South’s top team.
Mo Compito and Meredith Nelson were at the epicenter of the 7s rebuild, and their leadership helped the Harlequins to a 7th place finish at last year’s nationals. The outing set new team standards, which have been supported by an influx of talented, young athletes with experience in high-pressure 7s. Additionally, the scheduling itself has aided a more natural progression through the summer.
“We are definitely better prepared physically and mentally going into nationals this year,” Nelson explained. “Last season, we had our two and only qualifiers back-to-back right at the beginning of the summer, before we really even knew our team identity. Cape Fear 7s was also our last tournament of the season, so we had this uncomfortably long five-week gap before nationals.”
This year’s South qualifiers were spaced a month apart, and the Quins broke them up with tournaments in Asheville, Atlanta and Cape Fear.
“The structure of our tournament schedule in 2019 has been a lot more conducive to peaking at the right time,” the scrumhalf continued. “The gap between our last tournament [July 20] and nationals on August 10 is still a little roomy; however, our team understands the discipline needed to fill that time and we’ve been running our trainings at a high intensity level.”
Nelson credited Atlanta 7s head coach Ros Chou with instilling that level of awareness of dedication in the squad, but also noted that the coach is the first to remind the team to have fun. Fortunately, the team allows Chou to follow her own recommendations.
“This is some of the most fun I’ve had coaching, because they do everything,” Chou said Compito and Nelson’s managerial oversight. “I just show up and coach, and they handle everything else.”
Half of last year’s nationals team has been active this summer, while first-year Quins Corinne Heavner, Cortney Kuehl, KB Broughton, Kim Semiglia and Madison Ohmann, among others, inject years of elite 7s experience into the squad.
“In our first qualifier, I remember looking at the bench and seeing four Life players,” Chou added up the number of USA Rugby College 7s National Championship and CRC 7s games among them. “It was great to know that we had these solid players on the bench, that they could go in and know what they were doing.
“They’re really cool pieces to the puzzle,” Chou continued. “We’re building off of last year and adding more threats.”
Chou paid special praise to Pat Neder, who keeps pace with the 20-somethings and complements the team’s game well. As for breakouts …
Cyndi Campbell / Photo: Beni Thiong’o
“I really like Cyndi Campbell,” Chou said of the Ohio State and ARPTC alumna, who joined the WPL Quins last fall. “She loves 7s. I make her play a lot of minutes, so she gets a lot of time on the field. She combines skill with power; a big hearty Midwestern kid who can kick and tackle and also has a lot of speed. So she’s been a great find for Atlanta.”
Cape Fear provided the best competition throughout the summer, drawing the likes of National Development Academies and the military all-star teams. The Quins traveled without five regularly rostered players and then incurred two injuries on day one. The tournament ended with a 3-3 performance but the team emerged with a reinforced sense of its gritty, tenacious self.
Phoenix has been Atlanta’s best regional opponent and was the only other team seeking to qualify for nationals out of the South.
“The first qualifier was Phoenix’s first run-out and they didn’t have all three Harvey sisters,” Chou noted Canada star Magali, AIC’s Elizabeth and former Yellow Jacket Anne-Laurence. “They had all three of them at the second qualifier, and when they’re on the field together, they’re hard to contain. This Phoenix team is the strongest I’ve seen them.”
After winning the first qualifier and the first of two games in the second qualifier, the final was much closer. Phoenix took advantage of an Atlanta yellow card and ran in two tries. The Harlequins had to rally from a deficit, and did so to win 19-14 and take the top seed out of the South to nationals. Phoenix is also heading to Kansas City on Aug. 10-11.
Atlanta’s WPL practices begin next week and Life University student-athletes will also be trickling into Marietta. Those extra bodies at training will intensify the training pitch and give the Quins a nice final tune-up before nationals. Selections, however, will have to wait until the Women’s All-Star Week concludes. There are several Quins competing in Greeley, Colo., and Chou, who is head coach for the WPL East All-Star team, will do a status check after the 15s series.
USA Rugby has not yet released pools for the Club 7s National Championship; however, the 16-team field is known. For more club 7s news, click here.