The USA Rugby Women’s 7s Team is heading to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. The top-four teams on the 2022-23 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series automatically advance to the quadrennial Summer Games, and after six-straight podium finishes, the Eagles had a solid hold on third place heading into Hong Kong 7s. When the USA beat Japan in round two, thus guaranteeing a Cup quarterfinal berth, the Eagles banked the standings they needed for a ticket to France next summer. [All photos: Alex Ho, @hoiho_photo]
“That qualification is such an accomplishment because there are very good teams on the World Series,” USA Women’s 7s Head Coach Emilie Bydwell said. “Every pool game, quarterfinal, semifinal, is a challenge and to be able to show up and demonstrate the level of consistency that we did is what we’re really proud of. We’re also proud of how many players we’ve used throughout the World Series so far. We have 22 women working hard who have put us in a position to qualify. We have to enjoy it this week because we’re back to work on April 10, it’s a whole other journey, a whole next step.”
The USA began Hong Kong 7s with a 35-7 win against Spain, followed by a 26-17 victory against Japan. Pool play ended with a 15-12 loss against France – which automatically qualifies for the 2024 Olympics as host nation – and took the pool’s second seed to the Cup quarterfinals. A trip to that stage of the tournament guarantees at least six standings points, making it mathematically impossible for another team to push the Eagles out of the top four, even with another tournament (Toulouse) before the series’ end.
“There’s just a small moment of relief because when you have a goal and it takes this long to accomplish it, there is a lot of stress involved in that,” USA 7s co-captain Naya Tapper said. “Being able to take a moment to breathe and realize we did it, we accomplished it, we reached a goal we wanted to reach, there’s that relief and excitement that we have another opportunity to win a gold medal at the Olympics.”
That relief was balanced by the acknowledgment that there is still work to be done. The Eagles dropped two more close games – 19-14 to Fiji in the quarterfinals, and then 12-7 to Canada in the Plate semifinals. In the 7th place match, the USA beat Ireland 15-14. With the exception of the opening match, all games were decided by single digits. Kristi Kirshe led all try-scorers with five. Cheta Emba followed with four, and Ari Ramsey dotted down three times. Tapper (2), Spiff Sedrick, Alev Kelter and Kris Thomas also scored tries, while Nicole Heavirland (5), Kelter (4), Kayla Canett (2) and Alena Olsen added conversions.
“This weekend was a really important growth opportunity for us,” Bydwell told USA Rugby. “This needed to happen, and as silly as that sounds, [because] we’ve had a lot of close games this season. That put us in a position to be as consistent as we have been from a medal standpoint, but at some point when your games are that close, you’re going to lose one of them. We have specific things that we know we need to improve that work rate, resilience, and grit have allowed us to get through. Now that we’ve had these three losses against three really good teams, we have an opportunity to take a harder look at that.”
“Going into the season, we had the goal of top four, and with that goal bringing it down to the small details,” Tapper retraced the process this season. “We wanted to focus on creating our version of rugby versus trying to play somebody else’s version. We’ve slowly been creating that and getting to a point where it’s becoming more natural versus trying to force something. So creating our own version of rugby and then adding more skills sets – not just being a team that’s athletic but also being a team that can read the defense in front of them and make decisive plans of how to take advantage of what we see in front of us and get the outcome that we want from that.”
The Eagles will take a week’s break and then reassemble in preparation for the final HSBC stop in Toulouse, France, May 12-14.
“[I]t’s not about the top four anymore,” Bydwell said of the pivot. “It’s about the top three and being on the podium.”
Pingback: USA Names Toulouse 7s Roster - The Rugby Breakdown