The USA Women’s Sevens squad is on a medal streak this season as they head home with a bronze medal from HSBC Canada Sevens, bringing them closer than ever to early Olympic qualification. It’s the first time the Eagles have medaled five times in a row.
In the women’s first Series tournament in Vancouver, the USA had determination to continue their successful results that they’ve had all season. Alev Kelter’s return to sevens bolstered the roster’s power and playmaking ability heading into Vancouver, as well as Ariana Ramsey’s return to USA residency. A 2020 Olympian, Ramsey earned her first Sevens Series tournament cap in Vancouver.
Comments from Head Coach Emilie Bydwell: “I think for us, we're still kind of evolving in terms of how we want to play, and we've got a framework that the players are clear on. But that's one thing to be clear on it either at training or on paper, but to be able to come out and execute it under pressure, you know, in tight games, that's still something that we're working on. So I think that the commitment to the plan and where we wanted to play, we weren't where we wanted to be. So I think for the players, they wanna be able to see the framework work for them and for them to be able to express themselves and create opportunities that open up the games a bit more. So I think they really came out of day one thinking, we need to do this. Now it's time to do this. We've been talking about it enough, let's take action. And they did that in some really good moments over the course of the next two days.”
The USA opened their Vancouver tournament against Brazil, who came out of the gates fiercely and physically. The Eagles started out on defense but were patient in adding pressure to keep Brazil from getting out of their own territory. The first try of the game went to Kayla Canett off a scrum play and a pick and run from a ruck. From the restart, the Eagles kept on the pressure for another scrum, leading to more in-sync offloads and attacks for a try by Sammy Sullivan. Sullivan’s tried scoring ability shined yet again, however her strong defensive presence was center stage in Vancouver.
Brazil got their first opportunity for ball in hand, and ran off toward the try line, but Sammy Sullivan used her energy and defense skills to catch up and knock down Brazil with an ankle tap, and Canett finished the tackle, getting the ball back in their own territory. Naya Tapper opened up the second half with a try off a scrum, which opened up the space for the Eagles to run. Nicole Heavirland earned the Eagles’ final try of the game following patience through the carries and recycles. The USA’s defense continued to show great effort and work rate, and Brazil failed to break through until the last minutes of the game. The Eagles came away with the first win of their weekend, 20-7.
Playing Canada on their home turf, the USA’s next match was already highly anticipated and one of the high energy moments from BC Place. The roar of the crowd favored the northern neighbors, but the Eagles didn’t let their focus waver. From the start, both teams battled in physicality for control of the ball, but it was the USA with the first points on the board with a reaching try by Ilona Maher. It was a messy game for both sides, with Canada looking to dominate in front of the home crowd, and the USA conceded four penalties in total in the breakdowns.
In the second half, both teams continued competing for control, but some patient passing and teamwork gave Lauren Doyle a chance for a try. Alev Kelter made her way on the field and re-established her place in sevens with a series of epic passes, including one as she fell in a tackle for Cheta Emba to catch and score five points for the squad. Canada continued the fight well after the final whistle, but the Eagles came away on top with a 17-12 win to end their day.
The Eagles’ final pool matchup was a meeting with Ireland. Having met at every stop along the series so far this season, both teams were no strangers to the other. With the goal of going into knockouts undefeated, the USA ran out of the gates with determination. A passing error early on in their own territory gave Ireland the chance to strike first. Both sides were showing strong defensive efforts, but a yellow card to Kris Thomas for an intentional knock on gave Ireland the power play.
Down 10-0, the Eagles were not giving up, and it was a scrum set piece and breakways by Kristi Kirshe and finish by Kayla Canett who got the job done and put USA points on the board. At the second half restart, Sammy Sullivan won possession, and the squad built up to a USA try by Naya Tapper, who turned around for a second critical try. The squad kept up the strong defense to win 19-17, punching their ticket to the quarterfinals undefeated.
The USA v. Great Britain quarterfinal began with the Eagles in control of the ball first with a set piece play. Ilona Maher displayed dominant form at the start and ran the Great Britain defense line to find a gap and score the first points of the game. Great Britain found themselves making major errors with ball in hand, and Naya Tapper capitalized on that by taking the ball back and carrying to an offload to Kris Thomas for another try. Patient and clinical throughout the match, the USA exhausted Great Britain’s defense from all sides. The first half went three minutes over as Great Britain tried to make something happen with their attack, but the USA kicked the ball out before they could score.
The Eagles kept up their clinical and cohesive work in the second half, creating the space for Alev Kelter to finish the job with strong fends for two tries of her own. Keeping pressure on in the defense, the USA kept Great Britain in their own half for the majority of the game, and they only broke through once to score, ending the game 24-5. With the win, the USA secured a semifinal showdown against Australia.
Australia proved to be a dominant opponent in Vancouver, and immediately showed their force on attack. The USA struggled to keep the ball in hand or make things happen with possession, and Australia put the pressure on in the defense. The Eagles looked to insert their power to break through, but the Australia defense was unbreakable. Alev Kelter punted a massive drop kick to gain ground, but the ball remained inbounds and Australia took the ball back, unphased. The Wallaroos found the USA defensive holes and capitalized to win 38-0. With that, the USA headed to the bronze final against France.
Emilie Bydwell’s thoughts post-tournament: “Five tournaments, five medals, you know, we're pretty happy with that. We weren't too happy with how we played on the first day, but we came back with some pretty dominant performances. With Ireland, it was close, but we played more how we wanted to play. And then to have that quarterfinal, to be able to have a dominant performance against Great Britain was really exciting for us. Obviously we're disappointed about that game against Australia. With where we are as a team, we're at a stage where we want to be able to beat teams like that back to back.
“We were disappointed, but at the end of the day, we're more than a year out from the Olympics, and we'll take the learnings from that game because it's really important. And I think we're gonna grow a lot from being able to look at that game as a team and commit to actions that are going to make us more successful in those moments. And then I think France for us has been a little bit of a monkey on our back, you know, with the Rugby World Cup Sevens, they had a really dominant performance there. We were able to get one over on them on in Dubai and then they had had two dominant performances on us since then. I'm proud of the players for bouncing back after that Australian defeat and committing to the plan and going after it against France because they're an extremely good team. They're very well coached and I'm just very proud of being able to put a dominant performance in there.”
With the bronze medal finish, the women may garner enough points at the next tournament stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for Olympic qualification. The Eagles will look to do so at the Hong Kong Sevens, playing in the pinnacle tournament for the first time. The Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens kick off March 31, 2023, live on Peacock.
Bydwell noted, “We have a pretty short turnaround. I think that we really want to focus on building our chemistry and playing together. We had some pretty cool moments where the players really expressed the style of rugby we want to play. So it's gonna be about finding those moments more often. It's more going to be about how we can implement under pressure because I think that will translate well heading into Hong Kong.”
|1. Cheta Emba (she/her)
|2. Ilona Maher
|3. Kayla Canett
|4. Nicole Heavirland
|6. Alena Olsen
|7. Naya Tapper (C)
|11. Kristen Thomas
|12. Kristi Kirshe (she/her)
|15. Alev Kelter
|21. Ariana Ramsey
|22. Sammy Sullivan
|23. Lauren Doyle (C)
Head Coach | Emilie Bydwell (she/her)
Assistant Coach | Zack Test
Athletic Trainer | Nicole Titmas (she/her)
Strength & Conditioning | Trey Ford
Sports Psychologist | Peter Haberl (he/him)
Analyst | Lauren Barber
v. Brazil | 20-7 (W)
v. Canada | 17-12 (W)
v. Ireland | 19-17 (W)
Quarterfinals v. Great Britain | 24-5 (W)
Semifinals v. Australia | 0-38 (L)
Bronze Final v. France | 19-7 (W)