USA Rugby’s Women’s Eagles Sevens have opened their Olympic qualifying year by winning a silver medal at the HSBC USA Women’s Sevens 2018 in Glendale, Colorado.
The finish was a bit of a shock after the USA had an iffy Day One at Infinity Park, barely qualifying for the quarterfinals. But the USA team beat the defending World Series champion Australia 26-5 in the quarterfinals - marking the second time in a row that the Eagles opened the season beating the defending champs.
This game was all USA, and was followed up by a dramatic 21-19 victory over France in the semis. New Zealand went on to down the Eagles in the final, but going from 8th seed to #2 in a day was a huge move for the Eagles.
“This morning I’m so proud that they made a decision to come out and try and execute what we’ve been training for the last two months," said new head coach Chris Brown. “We had a jersey presentation with all our family and friends on Friday night and it means a lot to be able to play at home because it’s [rugby] not a big sport here yet and it’s growing. To have a stadium where the atmosphere is awesome in front of our family and friends, is just outstanding.”
The United States opened their season with three new players -- all significant senior club standouts -- and a new leader, with Brown officially being named Head Coach last week. Their dominant medal-winning finish is a significant indication of the growth of rugby across the U.S. with debutant Alena Olsen torching the field for a game-winning try on the final play of the USA’s semifinal matchup with 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist Australia.
As a result of their stunning performances, two U.S. players made the World Rugby Sevens Dream Team with 2016 Olympian Alev Kelter and Quinnipiac University standout (and 2016-17 Sorensen Award Winner) Ilona Maher earning the coveted tournament honors. Maher closed the competition as the second-highest try scorer of the weekend.
In the final, the USA opened the scoring through captain Nicole Heavirland, but New Zealand's response was swift with Portia Woodman leaving Naya Tapper in her wake to run tie the scores at 7-7.
Woodman ran in a second try in the sixth minute, having too much pace for Cheta Emba to catch her, although the American was close enough to force the Black Ferns Sevens star to dot down out wide, not that it made a difference with Tyla Nathan-Wong landing the conversion.
A quick burst of speed then put captain Sarah Goss through a gap to give New Zealand a 21-7 lead at half-time. That advantage grew when Ruby Tui, who was later named HSBC Player of the Final, straightened an attack and offloaded to Niall Williams. She was initially brought down short of the line by Alev Kelter, but quickly released the ball and dived over the line.
Canada took third, and every tournament matters as the top four for the season will automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics.