Despite missing the medal rounds for the first time this season, the USA Women’s Sevens had a historic weekend in Hong Kong as they competed in the hallmark tournament for the first time and secured their spot in Paris for the Summer Olympics next summer.
Fiji would steal the quarterfinal match from the USA with two tries in the last minutes of the game, bumping the Eagles from medal contention and leading to a seventh place finish. One more tournament lies ahead for the USA before breaking for the summer and reconvening ahead of the PanAm Games in Santiago this fall. Toulouse Sevens kicks off May 12, LIVE on Peacock.
The Eagles made a statement early on in their first pool match against Spain, as Kristi Kirshe touched the ball down under the posts for the first points of the game within 30 seconds of the start, scoring her career 50th try. It wasn’t two minutes later that the powerhouse player repeated the play, putting the USA up 14 points within the first two minutes. The slippery wet conditions in the misty rain brought a challenge to both sides as the teams fumbled with the ball a few times, but the Eagles wouldn’t let Spain get far with ball in hand. Spain found themselves on their own five meter line, giving the USA an opportunity to keep within scoring distance. Earning the ball back for another attack, the squad passed out wide to Naya Tapper, who sailed back to the middle for the third USA try of the match to end the first half.
The USA started out the second half with momentum, proving their lethality on attack. A slippery knock on gave the ball to Spain, but the USA took the ball back after a kick and chase attempt. The team built up their passes to get the ball to Ariana Ramsey, who sprinted away for her first try on the Series. Spain finally broke away into USA territory for a try of their own with three minutes to spare, but the USA had the final say with Spiff Sedrick, who scored the final try of the match to end the game 35-7. Despite the slippery conditions, the Eagles played a solid game to slot every conversion for maximum points.
It was a quick turnaround for the second match of the day against Japan, and the slippery, humid pitch conditions didn’t improve. Japan took the early advantage, winning kickoffs and slipping through USA defenses for the early try. The Eagles looked a little scrambled in the beginning as they tried to get their footing against an improved Japan force. Upon the second Japan try, the determination set in. Kristi Kirshe pushed her way through the defensive line for a textbook try under the posts, and turned around and got another off Naya Tapper’s line run to gain ground.
The Eagles fought hard to keep possession throughout the match. Heading into the second half, Kayla Canett forced her way to win a ruck to help Tapper get over the try line in the first few seconds. Japan proved they were a force to be reckoned with, though, as they found the right gaps to get another score on the Eagles. Both teams continued the scramble for possession until the end, but a five meter USA scrum gave advantage for Kris Thomas to get one more try to help the Eagles win the game 26-17.
With the second win of their pool match, the Eagles notched a spot to the Hong Kong Sevens quarterfinal, officially booking their early qualification to Paris 2024.
It was an early start for the women on day two in Hong Kong. France was the Eagles’ final pool matchup, and both squads headed into the morning undefeated on day one. France was dangerous at the start with quick tackles and on-point defense. USA needed to get out of their zone, but a kick and chase gave it over to France’s hands. Their attack paid off, and they found space out wide for the first two tries of the match. With the clock ticking down, the Eagles struggled to find their way into French territory. Kristi Kirshe finally found space to offload to Alev Kelter, who sprinted over 50 meters to the try zone, notching her 99th career try. Kayla Canett hooked a solid conversion to end the first half 7-10.
If the first half proved anything, it was that France would be a challenging opponent in the second half. They amped up their physicality on tackles to put the pressure on the Eagles. Their physical defense led to a quick start by Ariana Ramsey, who offloaded to Kris Thomas and on to Cheta Emba for the finish over the try line for more USA points. France found another gap to push on for another try, so it was up to the USA to finish strong. France kicked the restart near the end of the pitch with five seconds left on the clock, so the Eagles had to carry far to try and score. The Eagles remained resilient and recycled the ball well, with Lauren Doyle gaining ground with a big carry. Fatigue sets in with long plays, though, and France put on the pressure to end the Eagles’ attack to end the game 12-15.
Despite the loss to France, the Eagles earned a spot in the quarterfinals in a matchup against Pacific powerhouse Fiji. It was a scrappy game at the start, as the USA pushed Fiji back to their try zone and lost the ball. The USA stole it back after a scrum, and a Fiji penalty gave them a scrum of their own. On the attack, the Eagles tried to find gaps within Fiji defense, but their big tackles and dominant physicality kept them at bay. Fiji kept trying to push through at breakdowns to steal the ball, but the USA was patient and resilient, using creative offloads to get the ball out wide to Cheta Emba, who found the space for the first try of the match nearly six minutes into play. Fiji responded not soon after with a big run and try of their own to call halftime.
Zeroed in on clinching a spot to the semifinals, the USA started the second half with momentum. Kristi Kirshe found a gap to run 75 meters down to the try zone, putting the USA back in the lead. USA’s defensive pressure had Fiji scrambling to hold on to the ball, but they created an opportunity for another try to tie up the game. With one final play, the USA needed to hold on to the ball, but Fiji stole it back quickly in USA territory to get the final game winning points for a 14-19 score, sending the USA to the fifth place semifinals.
A North American showdown marked the fifth place semifinals, with Canada and the USA both determined to finish in as high a place as possible. The Eagles showed strong defense at the start with big tackles, putting pressure on for a knock on. On the attack, the USA worked hard to keep the ball alive, giving Kristi Kirshe the chance to run the line and offload to Cheta Emba, who got the ball under the posts for the first try. Canada attacked swiftly, testing USA defense and scoring their own points before the end of the first half.
The second half featured scrappy play, especially with the wet conditions and slippery ball. A chase for the loose ball turned it over multiple times until Canada earned it back for a second try. The Eagles fought hard and physical on defense, trying to get ball in hand, but they never got an opportunity to keep control again, ending the game 7-14 for a Canada win.
The Eagles had one more match with a seventh place playoff against Ireland. With the rain coming down harder, the squad had to take wet, muddy conditions into gameplay consideration. A couple of turnovers marked the first few minutes, but the Eagles are the first to strike with Cheta Emba finding a gap and running down field for a try. Alena Olsen performed a perfect kickoff that fooled Ireland into thinking it didn’t go 10 meters, so Kristi Kirshe picked and ran to retain possession. Ariana Ramsey had several standout defensive moments of her own with big try saving and ball stealing tackles.
In the second half, there was a big scramble for possession, but the USA found their organization to win a breakdown and pass the ball out wide to Ariana Ramsey for a second USA try. Soon after, Ireland found themselves in a line out, but an error put the ball in Kristi Kirshe’s hands, who ran down the field and on to Ariana Ramsey waiting on the wing for another try. With the clock ticking down, Ireland was looking for the final say, and their work paid off for a try that ended the game 15-14, giving the Eagles the seventh place win.
Comments from Head Coach Emilie Bydwell:
“This weekend was a really important growth opportunity for us. This needed to happen, and as silly as that sounds, we’ve had a lot of close games this season. That put us in a position to be as consistent as we have been from a medal standpoint, but at some point when your games are that close, you’re going to lose one of them. We have specific things that we know we need to improve that work rate, resilience, and grit have allowed us to get through. Now that we’ve had these three losses against three really good teams, we have an opportunity to take a harder look at that.
We showed as a program that we can put ourselves in positions to beat some really excellent teams. Even though we didn’t beat those teams, to be able to put ourselves in a position to do that with all the errors that we made or things we want different, without two incredibly influential players in Sammy and Ilona, that speaks to the depth of the program and what we’re capable of as a unit. We had some players that got opportunities to play more and shone at different times to show us what they’re capable of. The next evolution of this team is still coming.
The players are going to have a well-deserved week off. The way that Canada played against us in that game is what drove us to not be in a position where we were in a qualifier with them. That’s stressful, exhausting, and a lot of us have been losing sleep. While we’re disappointed about the weekend and we know we have a lot to improve, we also have a lot to celebrate in the fact that we finished in the top four with a tournament to go. Once we have that week, we’re going to be really moving on. Today was the next chapter for this team, and when we get back on the ground, it’s not about the top four anymore. It’s about the top three and being on the podium.”
USA Women's Sevens Roster | Cathay/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens
|1. Cheta Emba (she/her)||Prop/Hooker||28|
|3. Kayla Canett||Flyhalf/Scrumhalf||20|
|4. Nicole Heavirland||Hooker/Scrumhalf||34|
|5. Alex “Spiff” Sedrick||Flyhalf/Center||11|
|6. Alena Olsen||Scrumhalf||15|
|7. Naya Tapper (C)||Wing/Prop||32|
|10. Steph Rovetti||Flyhalf/Center||9|
|11. Kristen Thomas||Hooker/Prop||38|
|12. Kristi Kirshe (she/her)||Center/Prop||19|
|15. Alev Kelter||Center/Flyhalf||38|
|21. Ariana Ramsey||Scrumhalf/Wing||2|
|23. Lauren Doyle (C)||Wing||38|
USA Women's Sevens Traveling Staff
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)
USA Women's Sevens Hong Kong Results
v. Spain | 35-7 (W)
v. Japan | 26-17 (W)
v. France | 12-15 (L)
v. Fiji (QF) | 14-19 (L)
v. Canada (5th Place SF) | 7-12 (L)
v. Ireland (7th Place Playoff) | 15-14 (W)