Fourth place Cape Town Sevens finish for USA Women’s Sevens shows room for growth

Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The USA Women’s Sevens improved on their results from last week to earn a spot in the bronze medal match at Cape Town SVNS, where they would fall to New Zealand. Some challenging moments and dominant matches highlighted areas of improvement for the USA as they continue their pursuit to move up the ranks. 

Heading back home after two weeks abroad, the team will break for the holidays before returning to Chula Vista in January. The squad will have a few weeks to focus on the next SVNS stop in Perth at the end of January.

Comments from head coach Emilie Bydwell: 

"Cape Town was a good step forward for us in our season following what we learned in Dubai. We had a big week in terms of reflecting on our performance and highlighting the aspect of play that would make the biggest difference in our response this weekend. We improved our ability to play to space more effectively and are looking forward on expanding that aspect of our game so that we can be less predictable and best maximize our strengths. Defensively, we are always looking to refine details that allow us to apply more pressure, whether that be at the breakdown or by taking space. We saw some positive aspects of that throughout the weekend that we can build from.

The players head straight into a very important remote training block that will give them the opportunity to get away and reset following a long preseason. We will resemble as a team January 1 for our build up to Perth. Australia, France, New Zealand, and the other teams have all progressed from last season and will continue to grow throughout the season as we look toward Madrid and the Olympics. While we have specific game plans for each team, our Perth block will be focused on refining the actions required to be the best version of ourselves regardless of the opposition."

Tournament Recap

Cape Town Sevens began with an opportunity for redemption against Canada after an overtime loss against the northern neighbors in Dubai. The Eagles put on the defensive pressure early to take control of the ball. The scrum would be the main theme for the USA in this match, as they scored three tries off their strong set piece. Canada would crumble to the pressure and deceiving wind on attack, and the USA capitalized several times. The squad lost steam in the end of the second half, letting Canada get away with two tries, but the USA still came away with the win 21-14. 

Going into match two on a high note, the Eagles showed promise going against France. But it wouldn’t go in the Eagles’ favor, as France displayed their defensive prowess and found opportunities to steal. The USA’s pressure to strike left them making small mistakes, leading to big capitalizations by Les Bleues. A yellow card to Cheta Emba for an intentional knock on left the USA one man down for two minutes, but they managed to keep their defensive wall strong and didn’t let France through once during those minutes. France was stronger on both sides this time, giving way to a 31-0 loss. 

The USA’s final pool match against hosts South Africa would be the final determination for quarterfinal qualification. Reeling from a tough loss against France, the Eagles had a determination to turn around their day. The first half showed the incredible team effort underway, as the Eagles worked against a bustling home crowd for the Springboks to get down the field. Ilona Maher’s unstoppable prowess earned her five points for the USA. Spiff Sedrick made a big statement with two tries, one off a bouncing kick by Alena Olsen. Naya Tapper, Cheta Emba, and Jaz Gray’s individual speed scored three more tries as the USA showed full control of the ball, not giving way to South Africa once. The 34-0 win gave the Eagles their ticket to the quarterfinal and a reminder not to count out the USA. 

The Eagles’ Pool C standing put them against Great Britain in the first quarterfinal of the day. Bright and early under the Cape Town sun, Great Britain was ruthless on attack, leaving the USA USA defenders scrambling. They made it down to the try zone but it was held up, giving the USA a chance to take the ball back and head back down field. Great Britain would concede multiple penalties throughout the match that would let the USA reset their offense, and the first time led to Naya Tapper scoring off a scrum to put the first points on the board. Great Britain responded quickly after finding gaps in USA’s defense. The first half fight continued over a minute into halftime, when Kayla Canett finished a long series of phases to up the USA score. 

The second half didn’t start in USA’s favor, when Spiff Sedrick went to the bin for throwing away the ball. Great Britain immediately took advantage for another plus five to even the score. The rest of the match was a fight on both sides, as the USA struggled to hold on attack as Great Britain capitalized on every mistake. But it would be their penalties that gave USA time to bring the ball down the field to find Naya Tapper, who won the foot race to score the 19-12 game winning try and a ticket to the semifinals. 

The USA met Australia on the semifinal pitch, who were solid from the start, strong in rucks, and quick to fend off defenders. The USA held them off for a few minutes, but they remained in possession until they found a gap to score the first try. The Eagles worked hard and had some good movement on attack, but small mistakes led to turnovers. At halftime, the Eagles didn’t have any meaningful possession, but that changed off kickoff when Spiff Sedrick got the ball and found a spot to sprint under the posts. It would be the only time the USA saw the try zone, and the costly errors gave Australia control to win 5-33, sending the USA to the bronze medal match. 

The Eagles entered a fight for the bronze medal against New Zealand, who were upset by France in their semifinal. The match kicked off with an early exchange of penalties before the Black Ferns lost Michaela Blyde to a yellow card for interference. This would be the moment the USA needed to take advantage, but some handling errors let possession get away from them. They held New Zealand back defensively, but the Black Ferns’ patience paid off to score three tries. New Zealand were dominant throughout the match and proved their lethality on attack, and the USA needed to work hard to keep possession if they wanted a fighting chance. A penalty to the Black Ferns gave the Eagles the opportunity they needed, and it was Ariana Ramsey who ran the line and found the gap to outpace New Zealand and score. It would be the only scoring opportunity for the Eagles, and the match would go to New Zealand, 7-19. 

USA Women’s Sevens Roster | 2023 HSBC SVNS Cape Town
Name Position HSBC Tournaments
1. Cheta Emba Prop/Hooker 31
2. Ilona Maher Center 24
3. Kayla Canett Flyhalf 23
4. Nicole Heavirland Hooker/Scrumhalf 36
5. Alev Kelter Center 41
6. Alena Olsen Scrumhalf 18
7. Naya Tapper (C) Wing 35
11. Kris Thomas Hooker/Prop 41
17. Alex “Spiff” Sedrick Center 14
21. Ariana Ramsey Wing 4
22. Sammy Sullivan Prop/Wing 8
23. Lauren Doyle (C) Wing 41
99. Jaz Gray Wing 11
USA Women’s Sevens Cape Town Traveling Staff

Head Coach | Emilie Bydwell

Strength & Conditioning | Trey Ford

Athletic Trainer | Nicole Titmas

USA Women’s Sevens Cape Town Results

Saturday, December 9

Pool C

v Canada | 21-14 (W)

v France | 0-31 (L)

v South Africa | 34-0 (W)

Sunday, December 10

QF v Great Britain | 19-12 (W)

SF v Australia | 5-33 (L)

Bronze Final v New Zealand | 7-19 (L)