The USA earned their fourth straight series medal after a hard-earned fight to the bronze medal at HSBC Sydney Sevens. With the bronze medal, the USA remain top three in the series, well on track to early Olympic qualification.
It was a tiring fight in the Sydney summer humidity, but the USA Women’s Sevens remained resilient and kept their goal in focus. Earning their fourth straight medal for the second time in the squad’s history on the series, the Eagles played the cleanest game of all teams in pool play, conceding the least number of penalties throughout the three matches. Naya Tapper also earned her 30th cap as the fifth Women’s Eagles Sevens athlete to do so.
Head Coach Emilie Bydwell’s comments post-Sydney: “The second weekend is always difficult with all teams wanting to come out and show what they can do and improve on the previous weekend’s performance. We really had to take a look at ourselves after day one because we didn’t feel that we met the intensity of the other teams and were not performing on the actions that make us the team that we are. So for day two, we knew that our pool was close so it was about going each moment at a time and committing to those actions and to fueling connection with each other.”
It was a classic North American matchup between the USA and Canada to start Pool B. The northern neighbors haven’t scored more than one try in a game against the USA all season, so the Eagles were facing a hungry and motivated Canadian squad. Their determination was shown early on, as Canada started out aggressively, knocking over our strongest defenders to patiently make their way to the try line and putting up the first points of the game. On the offense, the USA’s uncharacteristic untidy passes made way for some errors, but Kristi Kirshe was able to pick up a loose ball and half skip over Canada to score the Eagles’ first try. Not soon after the Eagles won their own kickoff to recycle the ball a few times and use solid decoy work to get Cheta Emba over the try line.
Both sides displayed organized defense, and Kirshe had some big fends to keep Canada away from Eagles territory. A yellow card to Ilona Maher gave Canada power play to score one more try, and the USA spent the remainder of the game recycling the ball to run out the clock and win the game 14-12.
The Eagles met Fiji for their second Pool B matchup. Fiji was quick and confident from the start, scoring a breakaway try right off the bat. They kept up momentum early with fast and numerous offloads, leaving the USA to scramble in defense. The Eagles found their own opportunity with the ball in their hands, with Kirshe finding the space to run the ball for points on the board before the end of the first half. A sense of urgency marked USA play in the second half, with the squad working in tight channels to get Nicole Heavirland over the try line. The USA kept the ball in play for a long time in the second half, but fatigue in the humid weather and Fiji’s defense won out, ending the game with a 14-17 loss.
Heading into day two in Sydney, the USA was looking for some redemption after struggling to find their footing the day before. Meeting Great Britain in their final Pool B match, the USA started out with patience on the offense and defense. Under pressure early on, Great Britain was able to steal the ball and run toward the first points of the game. Sammy Sullivan was a standout runner, earning points with a chase around the outside and tackling Great Britain after an attempted kick and chase. The Eagles remained patient with their attack to try and condense Great Britain’s defensive line, but a few mistakes kept giving the ball back to the opponent.
Great Britain was in the lead as the seconds ticked down, and with possession they tried to run down the clock, but a penalty gave way for a USA scrum. The Eagles weren’t going to give away their final opportunity, and it was Ilona Maher who completed the play by plowing the ball over the try line for the 12-10 win. Despite handling errors in the offense, the USA played a clean game, conceding no penalties.
The Eagles earned a spot in the quarterfinals as the third best team out of pool play, creating a Great Britain rematch. Having just played each other hours before, both teams were well aware of how each other played. This high-pressure quarterfinal game would be about how each side set themselves up early. It was the USA who scored the first points this time around, with Naya Tapper scoring from the outside. The Eagles looked more organized, with patient offloads and cohesion in the passes. Trust between Kayla Canett and Kristi Kirshe led to a brilliant second try. With three minutes left and leading 10-0, Alena Olsen gets sent off with a yellow card. Great Britain was able to take advantage of the power play and finally put points on the board, and the USA finished the game with the goal of keeping possession until the end, punching their ticket to the semifinal with a 10-5 win.
On the quarterfinal matchup, Bydwell said, “Playing the same team, and beating the same team in the same day is very tough. We changed our plan slightly going into the second game and the players executed on that allowing us to feel more in control. We also had the opportunity to have some roster adjustments seeing Nana Fa’avesi start and Alex Sedrick contributing significant minutes - they both allowed us to provide a different dynamic and energy in a critical game.”
The final day in Sydney began with a semifinal matchup with France in the semifinal. France, who had just upset Australia to make the semifinal, were looking to do the same to earn a trip to the cup final. Their determination was evident early on as they were quick to win first possession, and the USA conceded one of their few penalties of the tournament to give France a scrum five meters out. Kristi Kirshe had her own determination to defend USA territory and ripped the ball away as France wrestled over the try line. The highlight play wasn’t enough to deter France, though, as they reset at the 22 and scored.
France played with a lot of physicality, and the USA struggled to get out of their own territory for the majority of the game. The Eagles fought hard into the second half, where Lauren Doyle wrestled over the try line to score points for the USA. Unfortunately France’s physical attack on both sides won the game, 7-20. With the loss, the Eagles headed to the bronze final match to fight for a medal.
In the bronze final matchup, the USA played Ireland, who always proves to be a fierce team to play. It was the USA, though, who made a statement early with great offloads from Cheta Emba to Naya Tapper, setting Sammy Sullivan up for an epic first try of the game. The Eagles displayed solid carries when in possession, especially from Maher and Kirshe. Ireland fought to keep possession for much of the first half, but the Eagles were strong in their defense and kept the pressure on.
At the second half restart, Kris Thomas proved lethal in her leaps to catch the ball and win possession. A few dusty passes didn’t phase Kirshe, who fended off Irish defense to run through the middle for more USA points. The USA leading by seven made for a high-pressure last few minutes, and both teams played with urgency. Ireland made it all the way to the USA’s five-meter line, but a knock on gave it back to the USA to kick to touch, ending the gave and clinching the bronze medal with a 12-5 win.
Bydwell said, “We knew how badly Ireland wanted that medal, and we respect them tremendously as a team. We knew that we were going to have to find enough energy to match their intensity and play the game phase by phase if we wanted the outcome. We know it wasn’t pretty, but for us, medaling and building a culture of doing that consistently is incredibly important. Wins aren’t always going to feel great, but that’s not what matters for us right now, what matters is that we find a way to win, we work for each other and get as many points as we possibly can toward Olympic qualification.
“We definitely know that we didn’t perform the way we wanted to in the second weekend, so we will be taking a look at that and also some of the terrific things that players did over both weekends and make sure we recognize those and carry them forward. We will be able to review aspects of our tactical decision making and see where there were opportunities, particularly in the second weekend that we could have put ourselves in a better position to control the France game and be in more control across some of the other games. The players have put in a massive shift over the last two weeks, so they will get the week off now, and we will all come back ready to improve for the business end of the season next week!”
The Eagles head back to Chula Vista after two weeks abroad, where they will recoup and begin preparation for HSBC Vancouver Sevens, set for March 3-5.
USA Women’s Sevens Roster | HSBC Sydney Sevens
|1. Cheta Emba (she/her)||Prop/Hooker||26|
|2. Ilona Maher||Center/Prop||21|
|3. Kayla Canett||Flyhalf / Scrumhalf||18|
|4. Nicole Heavirland||Hooker/Scrumhalf||32|
|5. Alex "Spiff" Sedrick||Flyhalf/Center||10|
|6. Alena Olsen||Scrumhalf||13|
|7. Naya Tapper (C)||Wing/Prop||30|
|9. Joanne "Nana" Fa’avesi (she/her)||Prop||27|
|11. Kristen Thomas||Hooker/Prop||36|
|12. Kristi Kirshe (she/her)||Center/Prop||17|
|13. Sarah Levy||Wing||5|
|22. Sammy Sullivan||Prop||4|
|23. Lauren Doyle (C)||Wing||36|
USA Women's Sevens Traveling Staff
Head Coach | Emilie Bydwell (she/her)
Athletic Trainer | Nicole Titmas (she/her)
Strength & Conditioning | Trey Ford
Sports Psychologist | Peter Haberl (he/him)