SAN DIEGO, CA – The 2015-16 women’s sevens season for the @USAWomens7s squad produced a mixed bag of success and mediocrity. A mid-table run during the last HSBC World Sevens Series and a trip to the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, gave the Eagles a foundation to build on and develop in order to become a championship-caliber side.
The 2016-17 season kicked off with the Dubai Sevens, with the USA pitted against defending Olympic gold-medalists Australia, Cold War rivals Russia and the Women Boks of South Africa (See Junior Blaber’s Dubai Preview/Predictions). Meanwhile, here’s my rundown on the Eagles to get you ready for the season.
McCoy’s Mercurials and Richie’s Rebound
Where parts of last season’s World Series looked like a step in the wrong direction for the USA, their performance at the Rio Olympics definitively showed an Eagles side moving up in the world. Last year’s opening weekend of 2015-16 in Dubai was a horrific start for team that had just qualified for the Olympics only a few months prior, and things didn’t look good.
But the eager Eagles confidently bounced back in the #SãoPaulo7s two months later, finishing fourth after a close fought third-place final against New Zealand. The reversal in fortune wasn’t enough to satisfy USA Rugby’s Director of Performance Alex Magleby, though, and coach Richie Walker was named as replacement to former coach Jules McCoy. Walker’s coaching debut furnished silverware in front of a home crowd at the #Atlanta7s, when the USA beat Russia 19-7 in the plate final – a conciliatory reward following yet another loss to rivals Canada. The following week Canada Sevens rendered a forgettable seventh place finish, but the Eagles finished off the year on a high with an appearance in the plate final at the France Sevens.
Most importantly, though, the United States made it to the quarterfinals of the Olympic Games in Rio, eventually finishing the Summer Games with a remarkable fifth-place finish. A 1-1-1 record in Group A set up a quarterfinal clash with eventual runners up New Zealand and despite the ensuing 5-0 loss, consecutive wins over Fiji and Spain earned the USA an applause-worthy 5th-place. Despite the ups and downs of the World Series, they’re finished at the Olympics was a step in the right direction to end the season.
The Player Pool
Head coach Richie Walker has named 22 women to the Women’s Eagles Sevens High Performance Camp, the full-time residency program for the women competing to represent the USA in the 2016-17 season. The competing athletes are based out of the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA, just south of San Diego proper.
The Eagles pool has plenty of experience from all walks of American Rugby, notably led by Olympians Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter, who both enjoyed top form throughout last season’s World Series and Olympic Games. Kelter’s 79 points in last season’s World Series made her the top scoring American on the circuit and 12th overall, making her one of the USA’s top attacking threat alongside Kristen Thomas. Thomas’ 15 tries put her eighth overall on the World Series circuit statistics list and first in tries for the USA. Her recovery from a broken leg suffered during the final tournament of last season’s circuit could bode very well for the American attack. Ryan Carlyle and Joanne Fa’avesi also returns to the Eagles player pool to bring their experience and good performances in the USA jersey into the mix.
Joining these returning mainstays at the OTC is a plethora of college, club and high school talent. Nicole Strasko and Megan Foster of Life and Life West, respectively, bring in plenty of college experience. Strasko won a D1 7s national title and Foster a D2 club national title. Alongside premier club national champion Samantha Panky, these three women will have the opportunity throughout the 2015-16 season to represent the Eagles on both the sevens and XV levels.
On the youngest side of the competition, Walker has brought back two capped Eagles in Lilly Durbin, who made her debut at the #France7s last year, and Tess Feury, who has two XV caps to her name.
The residency pool, with over 80 combine caps a monks the various national programs, is a very young pool in general. 19 of the 22 athletes fall under the age of 26. The amount of youth on this USA Eagles team is perfect for a program that, even 3 1/2 years away from the next Olympic games, is looking to exponentially grow and be ready for Olympic medal contention.
A full list of pool players is located below.
Where the Eagles Need to Improve
The USA Women’s Sevens showed during the World Series circuit last year that they have the pace, agility, and endurance to be able to keep up with the world’s top sides. The Eagles play well in tight spaces, and have consistently grown better at the breakdown and securing recycled possession. When the ball got to the wide channels, the pace of the Eagles wingers outpaced nearly 2/3 of the other teams on the circuit, making wide play one of the USA’s most dangerous attacking options.
But the USA often didn’t spread themselves enough to be able to take advantage of the attacking opportunities of the wide channels. Possession tended to gather closer and closer to the breakdown over consistent phases, shortening the width of the field for the opposing defense. This narrow attack just pushed the Eagles into more and more unnecessary phases, tiring them to the point where they would concede penalties (fourth most on the circuit) and turnovers. If the USA hard to help themselves over the course of this next season, they need to realize the narrowness of their own attack and spread wide, ensuring that they do not space themselves too far.
Also, the USA’s eight yellow cards was the highest number of sin-binnings on the World Series, a statistic that needs to get better this season.
With the right amount of discipline and offense and awareness of their width in attack, the 2016-17 season could possibly see a first ever cup victory for the USA Women’s Sevens program.
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