San Diego retained the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship title, going 6-0 across two days and defeating Berkeley 22-12 in the final. The 2019 title marks the Surfers’ fourth and provides momentum into the Women’s Premier League, where San Diego also reigns as national champion.
Head coach Kate Zackary brought experience to Kansas City, Mo., including eight players who featured in last year’s title run. That confidence showed itself as the field raised its level of play in facing a reigning champion. In fact, in four of six games the opposition scored first, and in three of those, San Diego trailed at the half. The Surfers’ response – steady and opportunistic – is what marked the team’s title run.
Pool play started against ARPTC White, the residency program’s developmental side. Power runner Chloe Jex, try-scorer Justine Perl and Katherine Lohaus – who made a case for fastest player in the tournament – put in good performances, but San Diego took the 26-5 win. In round two, NOVA only trailed 12-5 at the half before a pair of Jaime Albarelli tries put some distance on the scoreboard, 24-12.
San Diego faced Atlanta in round three and the game began with the Harlequins’ Meredith Nelson blazing down the sideline for the opening score. Teammates Cortney Kuehl and KB Broughton followed their scrumhalf into the try zone that first half, and with Cyndi Campbell’s conversions, Atlanta banked 19 first-half points. San Diego did answer twice, working the ball to Kayla Lawson, who, alongside Chicago Lions’ Amanda Berta, was the breakout player of the tournament, but trailed 19-14 into the break.
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San Diego then deployed a methodic and determined response. It started with Alena Olsen, who has the potential to be the next Tyla Nathan Wong, per USA 7s head coach Chris Brown in the commentary booth. The 7s Eagle sent lovely, floating restarts for terrors like championship MVP Teigan MacDonald to chase down and intimidate opposing receivers, and was a perpetual nuisance on defensive scrums. She paired nicely with Megan Foster, who is savvy in contact, always well positioned for a poach, and had the best boot for conversions; as well as captain Hunter Griendling, who could stall defenses long enough to have space open up for finishers like Lawson.
The Surfers replied with tries from Lawson, Olsen and MacDonald, and Foster’s three conversions produced a 31-19 win.
San Diego and Atlanta advanced to the Cup quarterfinals out of Pool A, while title contenders Scion, Berkeley and Life West all won their respective pools with 3-0 records. Washington Athletic Club (WAC) stayed close to Scion in their pool play game and there was no surprise in its moving on. Pools C and D mixed up expectations for the knockout rounds.
Phoenix bolted onto the scene, sending Sam Black (2) and Morgan Freeman into the try zone during the first half of its opener against New York. There was more parity in the second half, but Phoenix held on for the 28-24 win – a decision that ultimately put Phoenix into the Cup quarterfinals instead of New York. Canada’s Harvey sisters – Magali, Anne-Laurence and Elizabeth – featured heavily for the Florida-based team.
ARPTC Blue looked the sharpest across the whole field during round one. There was no adjustment period as leaders like Hallie Taufoou and Jess Wooden and Sophie Pyrz directed a 31-0 shutout against Boston. But then the Chicago Lions took the round two match 14-7 – again, Berta was superb – and Life West rallied for the 7-5 victory in round three, leaving ARPTC out of the quarterfinals.
On day two, San Diego had to rally in all three games before winning. WAC set the tone in the quarterfinals, playing off captain Megan Sanders and breakdown disrupters like Christa Banks. Lauren Barber and Jennine Detiveaux, who engaged in a nice battle with Lawson, were always good for some go-forward, and Seattle squad took a 14-7 lead into the break. San Diego’s three second-half tries were products of opportunistic play and quick transition to a fast attack. Foster intercepted a pass and Albarelli scored; Olsen grubbered through the restart and Griendling’s recovery moved to MacDonald for the try; a turnover moved quickly to Liz Trujillo for the game-winner, 26-21 with Foster’s conversions.
Poise was the theme for the Cup semifinals, as Life West, which had defeated Phoenix 26-7 in the quarterfinals, launched an oppressive defense that kept San Diego retreating in attack. The line speed was fantastic and breakdown work from players like Elizabeth Cairns, Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru, Sara Parsons and Nicole Strasko had the potential to unravel the well tested. Eventually a turnover moved to Amy Naber Bonte, who immediately broke the line and scored, and converted, for the 7-0 lead.
RELATED: Day 2 Results
San Diego scored the next three tries, the first two from Lawson, who took advantage of speed mismatches out wide after teammates planted big tackles (Foster) and worked the 2-on-1 (Tia Blythe). The third try saw Griendling take advantage of a fast, but uneven defense, side-stepping the blitz and then connecting with Olsen for the try. Neariah Persinger ended the game with a converted try, but San Diego advanced with the 26-19 win.
That set up an all-California showdown with Berkeley, which has two national 7s titles to its credit but hasn’t advanced to a final since 2013. The All Blues posted three shutouts in pool play against the D.C. Furies, Phoenix and New York, and were led by the incomparable Evan Hoese and Bulou Mataitoga. These two have a wonderful connection on the pitch, are really good in contact, and set their teammates up so they too can showcase their strengths.
The duo was instrumental in orchestrating the first try of the Cup quarterfinal against the Chicago Lions, and Hoese’s hustle to the breakdown set her up for the weak side break into the try zone. Cathy Cai, who was also really good in contact, took a close-range penalty tap, cut hard against her opposite and scored. Devon Gold ended the game with a nice break and fab offload to Berta for the try, but there the game ended: 12-5.
Berkeley’s semifinal against Scion, which finished third overall, was brutal. The All Blues took a 12-0 lead, first getting into scoring position as Mataitoga, Elena Clark, Shelby Lin and Hoese connected downfield. Sweden international Tyra Norlander found a mini-crack in the Scion defense, wrapping her arms around the tackle to loop the pass to Erika Granger out wide for the try. Hoese converted and then immediately made good on a missed tackle out wide to score, 12-0.
Crucially, Scion scored right before the break, as Saskia Morgan, who is everything on offense and defense, took a quick tap against a slowly retreating defense for the long-range try. A nicely flowing attack saw all of the Sirens contribute to Nikki Snyder’s try, and then it was 12-10 to Berkeley. Scion looked like it was going to take the lead, as it recovered a messy Berkeley lineout in the All Blues’ end. Nate Serevi sent a pass out the back to Maggie Myles, who also had a knockout tournament. The co-captain dove through the tackle but the grounding was deemed knocked-on by the perfectly placed line judge. That was the decision-maker and Berkeley advanced to the final.
Berkeley rode that momentum into game six and was first to score, as Lin smartly reversed play to commit a clumped group of defenders in the process of reorganizing. Just before contact, the scrumhalf sent a short pass to Hoese on the sideline for the try.
Olsen broke up Berkeley’s smooth scrum and a turnover ball dribbled in Lawson’s direction. The wing did a great job of cleaning up possession and then put her pace to good use for the corner try. Foster added a stellar conversion from the sideline for the 7-5 lead.
But Berkeley wasn’t ready to concede the lead and immediately answered back. With ball in hand, Hoese took a hard angle between two defenders, gauging who’d commit and what action would follow. But no one bit and she split the line for the pull-away try and conversion, 12-7 into the break.
Then it was Olsen’s turn to surprise the defense, peeling off a scrum and inserting for a pass back inside. Hoese tracked the scrumhalf down but Lawson was there in support for the well time pass and try. Foster converted for the Surfers’ 14-12 lead.
The decision-maker followed, as San Diego held possession in Berkeley’s end, but was still outside of the 22. The ball hit the ground and Maggie Simpson saw the error as an opportunity to rush. The risk nearly paid off, but San Diego recovered quickly and made good use of the uneven defense. Ball moved to Lawson for the wing’s third try and Foster’s third conversion: 21-12 the final.
It was another fitting final from two well coached, elite teams, and both will take that momentum into the WPL season, which begins this weekend.
1. San Diego (Pacific South)
2. Berkeley (Pacific North)
3. Scion (Mid-Atlantic)
4. Life West (Pacific North)
5. Washington AC (Pacific North)
6. Atlanta (South)
7. Chicago Lions (Midwest)
8. Phoenix (South)
9. ARPTC Blue (Red River)
10. New York (Atlantic North)
11. Rocky Mountain (Frontier)
12. NOVA (Mid-Atlantic)
13. ARPTC White (Red River)
14. Santa Barbara Academy (Pacific South)
15. D.C. Furies (Mid-Atlantic)
16. Boston (Atlantic North)