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The Love/Hate With the LVI

  • 07 Mar 2016

I love the LVI, and this year’s competition in all divisions was top-notch. The Women’s Elite was the biggest and most diverse it’s ever been. The Girls U18 Elite was bursting with academy and all-star athletes. And two American colleges competed for the Open final. With that said, there’s a lot of room for improvement.


USA Rugby didn’t sponsor a women’s representative team to Las Vegas, but Penn Mutual stepped up and funded the USA Falcons. The team was relatively young in experience, featuring three college-aged players (Richelle Stephens, Nicole Heavirland, Naya Tapper) and only half of the squad that competed in Sao Paulo 7s in late February. The USA and several other countries used the LVI as an additional fixture to test athletes, especially since the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series dropped one leg during an Olympic year.


But the tournament took on an odd four-day format. The majority of teams played two games each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Cup semifinalists played Thursday, Friday and Sunday, meaning Saturday was an idle day. To boot, Mexico was a no-show, which meant Great Britain, Atavus and Rugby Quebec were short one pool game. Perhaps it would have been too complicated logistically to situate the 15 teams into three pools of five, but it’s also easier to just award a bye through one round.


“We started with a forfeit [to Mexico], so that wasn’t really helpful,” former Eagle Nathalie Marchino reflected on Atavus’ loss to Great Britain Friday. “We’re a team from all over. We got here a day early to have two run-throughs, so we were really looking forward to having a couple of games yesterday, because we felt like this [game against Great Britain] was going to be the harder one. So obviously not having that first game didn’t work in our favor.


“We did a lot of really great things; we just got beat on the outside. That’s just because we’re not used to each other on defense,” added Marchino, who is awaiting approval from World Rugby to join Colombia’s Olympics-bound 7s team.


Atavus went on to win the Plate on Saturday, while Cup semifinalists USA Falcons, Great Britain, France and the Maple Leafs occupied themselves with team meetings, film review and social appearances. They also took special care of their bodies in hopes of peaking for one game, possibly two, on Sunday.


“We have a great strength-and-conditioning coach who led us through a little bit of a workout and some stretching, and made sure we were really cognizant of recovery,” USA Falcons flyhalf Hunter Griendling addressed the idle Saturday. “You talk about winning the games, and the most important thing is winning the recovery afterward: Stay horizontal as much as you can; get your stretching in; get your compression pants on.”


It was great having three Elite games in the stadium, but the remote fans had to deal with sub-par streaming. There were reports of the camera panning to the landscape in the middle of the semifinals, a treatment reminiscent of the USA Sevens Women’s CRC final last year.


This neglect was seen elsewhere and in harsher terms. The Girls Elite final was played in the stadium Saturday morning, but as Atavus and BC Elite trotted out onto the pitch, the stadium announcer bellowed that halves would only be six minutes long. Immediate protests were hurled from the bench – understandably so – but all that was offered was: It’s for t.v. reasons. And those reasons rule, but how hard is it to give teams a heads-up? Or move the kickoff to 10:04 a.m. from 10:06 a.m.?


The need to stay on schedule was so apparent that when a player collapsed in-goal and medical staff waved in additional help, the assistant referee reacted immediately and called for a substitution. He relayed to the bench that even though the scoreboard clock kept running, the referee was keeping the official time. But when the scoreboard siren sounded, the game ended. The match was probably 11 minutes long.


Opportunity with an asterisk. Be grateful to play in the stadium, even if it’s for an abbreviated game. Enjoy the international competition, which is hacked into an unrecognizable tournament format and live-stream.


I’m fortunate enough to watch and interview these amazing athletes in person. They’re representing our country, or aspiring to do so, and there is so much drive and talent in the younger ranks. It makes it all that more heartbreaking to watch these athletes weather perpetual inconsiderations.

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