USA Women’s Sevens clinch Hong Kong silver in their first cup final of the season

Sun, Apr 7, 2024, 8:17 AM
by Taylor Dean
Mike Lee - KLC Photos
Mike Lee - KLC Photos

The USA Women’s Sevens continue to build momentum toward the end of the season, securing a silver medal at Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong SVNS.

In their first cup final of the season, the Eagles showed some positive moments that they’ll take into the final SVNS stops ahead of Paris 2024. 

Nineteen-year-old Kaylen Thomas made her SVNS debut, scoring a try in her third match appearance against Canada. Ilona Maher also scored her 60th career try, a critical one in the semifinal against France. 

The Eagles showed dominance in their quarterfinal match against Fiji, to go on and match France’s speedy and physical defense to clinch the semifinal win. While New Zealand was dominant in the final, the USA’s first appearance in the cup final and silver medal are the highest placement for the team this season. 

The squad will continue the build as they head home to prepare for one more SVNS stop ahead of the finale in Madrid. HSBC Singapore SVNS kicks off Friday, May 3, live on RugbyPass, with semifinals and finals simulcast on Peacock.

Comments from Head Coach Emilie Bydwell:

"It was a tremendous weekend, with so many positives but also some many things we can continue to improve on. We’ve been building throughout the season, focusing on the process and laying one brick at a time. We are really proud of the collective determination that the team showed particularly in our response against Fiji after our pool play loss to Canada and the way that we showed up and fought for everything against France. While we are disappointed with the way the final played out, we know that there is so much that we can take from that game as we build into both Singapore and Madrid.

While this season will culminate both in Madrid and at the Olympics, we need to celebrate the moments along the way, and to be able to play in a final at such an iconic rugby sevens venue is a memory that I hope our players cherish for the rest of their careers."

Tournament Recap

The Eagles commenced their Pool C pursuit against Spain. Both teams were looking to make a statement in their first match of Hong Kong. The USA were very professional at the start, with Alev Kelter kicking off and then winning possession, but a forward pass to the wing called it back to Spain. The Eagles put on great defensive pressure, giving way to small Spain mistakes as they held possession but struggled to get out of their territory. But an overthrown Spanish lineout ball was caught by Kristi Kirshe, who ran past defenders to score under the posts. Ilona Maher reminded opponents of her power as she pushed down field, setting Jaz Gray on the wing up for the final first half score. 

The second half saw a few USA mistakes on attack, slowing down their scoring chances, but Jaz Gray’s classic footwork drew in two defenders to get the ball to Kayla Canett, who touched down on the wing. Alev Kelter took the final USA score following a connected series with quick hands. But Spain would have the final say as Spiff Sedrick took a yellow card two minutes over the final whistle, setting the opponents up for one try, ending the game 24-5. 

The Eagles’ second match against Japan saw an improved opponent in defense, which pressured the USA in ball handling errors that slowed down the game. But Ilona Maher was first to strike off a scrum, who jetted down the side for five points. Both teams fought for possession as the first half proved to be low-scoring as Japan took a loose ball and scored at halftime, tying the game. 

On attack at the start of the second half, Japan tried to build momentum, but another ball error gave it back to the USA. The Eagles were really good at spreading width to width with some great support play, but Japan’s strong defense kept up with their speed. Jaz Gray finally got into place to score on the wing, and the USA re-organized their defense to push through. Alev Kelter won the ball back in a counter-ruck on Japan’s try line, and immediately scored off a scrum before kicking her own conversion. Japan struck last to end the game, but the USA squeaked away the win, 17-12. 

With quarterfinals secured, the USA headed into their final pool match looking to land on top. A border battle with Canada is always a spicy game to watch, and this one was no different. Both teams had shining moments on defense, but Canada proved to be more organized in theirs, as they put on pressure and won counter rucks to keep the USA from getting too close to the try line. A low scoring first half only saw Canada over the line once. 

In the second half, debutante Kaylen Thomas showed off her speed as she broke away and raced down the field for her first career try. Jaz Gray took on a runner for a try saving tackle, but Canada would later return to USA’s 22 and put the ball over the line for the final score, giving them the win, 5-12. 

Facing Fiji in the quarterfinal, the Highwomen knew they needed to play very physically against the strong Pacific team. Fiji were first with a strong attacking opportunity, but Spiff Sedrick ran down a runner to force a turnover just in time. A few more turnovers and fights for possession brough the ball back to the USA for a scrum, and not soon after did Kristi Kirshe spot the gap in Fijian defense to explode away for the first score. Fiji soon skirted away for a try, but it would be their only touch in the try zone for the rest of the game. Alev Kelter and Steph Rovetti added more tries to the USA tally ahead of the halftime whistle, as the squad built some cohesive energy and left Fiji’s defense scrambling. 

The Eagles continued to play dominantly, but conceded a few penalties at the start of the second half. But Fiji’s errors led to USA’s opportunities, and a bouncing loose ball grabbed by Ilona Maher upped the USA lead. Fiji took a yellow card for a deliberate knock on, keeping the ball in USA hands. Kris Thomas scored the final try of the match, leading the way to a 33-7 USA win. 

Refreshed heading into day three, the USA faced a strong opponent in France for the semifinals. Both teams were urgent at the start, and the tension was high for both teams desperate to book a cup final. The Eagles surged down the field for the first attacking play, but France won a penalty to tap and go. The urgent French side missed a pass, where the USA picked up the ball and Alev Kelter fought her way to stretch over the try line for the first score. France continued to miss offloading connections as the USA put on pressure and worked to be quick on taking advantage of errors. Steph Rovetti with ball in hand found space up the middle and offloaded to Ilona Maher who jetted off to her 60th career try, an immediate response to France’s first score of the game. 

The two teams continued to tire each other out physically, and the majority of the second half remained scoreless as France tried to tie up the score and the USA worked to keep them away from the try line. With the minutes ticking down, France worked their way to scoring potential, but the Eagles were relentless on defense, and it was Sammy Sullivan who won the penalty right on their own try line. The possession win set Jaz Gray up perfectly, who came off the bench with fresh feet. Upon catching the ball, she tip-toed past the touch line and ran 80 meters down to the final score of the game, ensuring the USA a spot in the Hong Kong SVNS Cup Final with a 19-5 win.

In a cup final against New Zealand, the USA needed to keep up the tough and tenacious defense seen against France. The All Blacks would prove tough to tackle at the start, as the USA scrambled at defending against an elusive attacking opponent. A yellow card to Steph Rovetti for a dangerous tackle gave New Zealand an advantage to continue their dominance in the first half. But the USA were the ones to put on the power play pressure. Ilona Maher broke away to get into New Zealand territory for the first time, setting Spiff Sedrick up for a score at the halftime whistle. 

The Eagles had more attacking opportunities in the second half, but New Zealand’s quick line speed put on the pressure before they could build up momentum. The USA’s defensive wall held strong, but the All Blacks’ quick feet and speed in offloads gave them the upper hand. New Zealand’s dominance would give the USA the silver medal, 7-36.

With their second medal of the season under their belts, the Highwomen will look at improvements as they head home to prepare for the final SVNS stop in Singapore ahead of the final in Madrid.

USA Women's Sevens Roster | 2024 Hong Kong SVNS
Name Position HSBC Tournaments
2. Ilona Maher Center / Prop 28
3. Kayla Canett Flyhalf 27
5. Alev Kelter Center / Prop 45
6. Alena Olsen Scrumhalf 22
10. Steph Rovetti Scrum Half / Fly Half 14
11. Kris Thomas Hooker / Prop 43
12. Kristi Kirshe Prop / Hooker 24
13. Sarah Levy Hooker 9
17. Spiff Sedrick Center 18
19. Kaylen Thomas Wing 1
22. Sammy Sullivan Prop / Hooker 12
23. Lauren Doyle (C) Fly Half 44
99. Jaz Gray Wing 13

USA Women's Sevens Traveling Staff | Hong Kong SVNS

Head Coach | Emilie Bydwell

Assistant Coach | Zack Test

Strength & Conditioning | Trey Ford

Athletic Trainer | Nicole Titmas

USA Women's Sevens Hong Kong Results

Pool C

v Spain | 24-5 (W) v Japan | 17-12 (W) v Canada | 5-12 (L)


QF v Fiji | 33-7 (W) SF v France | 19-5 (W) Cup Final v New Zealand | 7-36 (L)

Full tournament results »