It’s a promising new year for the USA Women’s Sevens, who unseated World Cup Champions Australia in the cup semifinal to advance to the Final and clinch the silver medal in Hamilton. Continuing to earn podium finishes, the USA remain right in the mix for early Olympic qualification as they hold strong to the third place rank on this year’s series.
The USA Women’s Sevens have had an outstanding 2023 Series thus far, earning their third straight medal for the second time in team history. The Eagles faced tough opponents, and ended Australia’s win streak to clinch a spot in the HSBC Hamilton Sevens Cup Final, their first trip to a cup final since their win in Malaga last year. The USA entered the final undefeated, their teamwork and individual strengths on full display all weekend.
Head Coach Emilie Bydwell’s comments on Hamilton Sevens performance: “We are really happy with the progress shown across the weekend. We left the last two tournaments knowing what we needed to improve on and the fact that we were able to deliver on those areas across the weekend was positive. However, the best part is we know that there are still areas that we can be more consistent in and while we are happy to have silver - we will now be focused on the next steps in our progression.”
The Eagle’s first pool play match against Spain gave the Eagles a chance to test their skills against a strong opponent. The USA’s line speed with the defense dominated, and Cheta Emba showed off her power early on, protecting the ball well and using her power to drive through tackles to make her way to the try zone. Her ability to shake off Spain’s offense made way for more try-scoring opportunities, and she earned a hat trick in the first half of the game. The USA did well to force errors, and a yellow card to Spain gave advantage to the Eagles to slip through defense and earn more points. Miscommunication between phases gave Spain the chance to earn some points, but the USA came away with their first win in Hamilton, 31-12.
The Eagles met Brazil on Pitch 2 for their second pool game. Looking to add another win to their pool stage, the USA focused on a clinical game to find space and create opportunities for tries. The game began with solid phases and offloads by the USA to gain ground and set up Sammy Sullivan for a try on the wing. Sullivan went to score two more tries and earn a hat trick off cohesive phases and set pieces. The majority of the game was played in Brazil territory, and the Tupis couldn’t keep the ball in their hands long enough to get points on the board. The Eagles came away with the win 41-0.
In their final pool match, the Eagles met Ireland, who they’ve faced at every Series stop so far this season. Both teams put pressure on early, but Naya Tapper pushed away the offense for back to back tries. Ireland fought hard to keep the ball in their hands, and the messy first half saw errors on both sides. Kayla Cannett spied an opportunity for a steal, but the half time whistle ended the play. Heading into the second half, the Eagles needed to stay rock solid on their defense. Lauren Doyle found determination to gain some ground, which led to Kris Thomas dropping off the defense for five more points to win the game 15-7.
On pool play, Bydwell noted, “We were happy with our ability to get momentum early across the first four games. That has been something we’ve focused on. We will be looking to improve on our decision making around where we play, our decisiveness and our defensive connection as that will be hugely important for our pool next weekend.”
Heading into the knockouts undefeated, it was another quarterfinal matchup against Fiji, who the USA beat 10-7 in the Cape Town Sevens quarterfinals. Both teams hungry for a medal, Fiji was looking to reverse the score and lock in their semifinal. Fiji started with quick passes, but the USA’s patient defense put pressure on and forced errors and penalties. A yellow card gave the Eagles advantage, and Ilona Maher took it to breeze through to the try line after a feed from Alena Olsen. The Eagles’ communication was on point today, with quick passes, effortless offloads, and individual skills on full display.
The control and pressure from the USA was in contrast to Fiji, who struggled to complete passes and stay structured, but they managed to get through a long phase period to get points on the board. Alex “Spiff” Sedrick scored the last try of the game after spying an opportunity from the ruck and taking off. With a 27-7 win, the Eagles head to the semifinals, chasing their third medal of the 2023 series.
The Eagles knew they had a tough opponent in Rugby World Cup 2022 Champions Australia for the semifinal, so they would have to keep the pressure on and stay clinical to clinch a spot to the final. Both teams headed into the match undefeated, Australia undefeated so far this season. It was a high-pressure matchup at the start, with the USA taking two yellow cards in the first half. The advantage to the Aussies didn’t shut down the Eagle’s confidence, as Sammy Sullivan picked the ball and ran for points, and Cheta Emba used her prowess to get away from star Maddison Levi to dive into the try zone.
Leading into the second half, the USA kept up their defenses and forced multiple penalties on Australia. The pressure built on Australia to get the ball, and they kept up a strong defensive wall. Despite losing the ball at the final whistle, the USA didn’t let up, and a knock on by the Wallroos ended the game 10-7 for the USA win. Unseating the reigning Rugby World Cup Champions, the Eagles head into the Hamilton Sevens Cup Final.
“For us, it was taking things a moment at a time. There is no way to play a team like Australia anywhere but in the present moment, so our ability to do that is what allowed us to be in a position to win. Further, the challenge we set forward was to have discipline in our penalty count AND stay committed to our plan, doing that gave us the outcome we’ve been looking for since last January,” Bydwell said.
After the semi final game, Nicole Heavirland received a two-game suspension for foul play.
The Eagles entered the Cup Final undefeated, looking to keep the win streak going. Opponents New Zealand were also undefeated in Hamilton, only conceding two tries ahead of the final. Unseating the Black Ferns with their home field advantage would be no easy task. Cheta Emba proved to be up to the task, winning a penalty at the kick off and completing a try after a cohesive series of passes between the Eagles. The USA remained patient in their attempt to get a foothold throughout the game, but the Black Ferns were successful in pressure to force turnovers and finding gaps in the USA wall. New Zealand won the cup on their home soil, 33-7.
Bydwell concluded following Hamilton, “There is so much to take away from that game and build off of. We haven’t had the ability to play New Zealand as much as we have Australia and we need to understand that with that caliber of team, it’s a process. We need to remain committed to that and turn towards each other as we strive to be 5% better the next time. The main message going into next weekend is that we need to keep going moment by moment, brick by brick and take everything one game at a time.”
The Eagles’ silver medal finish was an important step toward Olympic qualification, further securing their spot in the top four. Next up, the women head to Sydney Sevens, which will air LIVE on Peacock, January 27-29.
USA Women's Sevens Roster | Hamilton Sevens
|1. Cheta Emba (she/her)||Prop/Hooker||25|
|2. Ilona Maher||Center/Prop||20|
|3. Kayla Canett||Flyhalf / Scrumhalf||17|
|4. Nicole Heavirland||Hooker/Scrumhalf||31|
|5. Alex "Spiff" Sedrick||Flyhalf/Center||9|
|6. Alena Olsen||Scrumhalf||12|
|7. Naya Tapper (C)||Wing/Prop||29|
|9. Joanne "Nana" Fa’avesi (she/her)||Prop||26|
|11. Kristen Thomas||Hooker/Prop||35|
|12. Kristi Kirshe (she/her)||Center/Prop||16|
|22. Sammy Sullivan||Prop||3|
|23. Lauren Doyle (C)||Wing||35|
|99. Jaz Gray||Wing||9|
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)