The Women Eagles came charging back in the Day 2 knock-out stage at the Atlanta stop on the 2014 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series to finish 5th and win the plate. The only 2 teams that beat the Eagles in the tournament were Canada and Australia who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. New Zealand won the tournament with a 36-0 win over Canada in the final.
Prior to the start of Day 2 play DeepSouthRugby talked with former USA 7s star Nathalie Marchino about where the women’s team seemed to be heading. Day 1 saw the women floundering in pool play. Several starting players who had been integral to the Eagles placing 3rd in the 2013 World Cup had been released from the Olympic training program and the 7s player pool. After a year only three of the original members of the inaugural Olympic training program remained. Nathalie felt confident that the USA women were now faster and with more talent and potential than ever before, and when the Eagle’s took the field against Canada for the 2nd time in the tournament, they were a different team. Although they lost 26-12, they were emerging as the side Marchino predicted they could be. By the end of the day they had beaten England (19-5) and Spain (22-0). In last year’s inaugural season of the Women’s Sevens World Series the Eagles played England twice. They lost both times, 29-12 in Houston and 19-0 in China.
A key part of the rebuilding USA side was cross-over athlete Jessica Javelet. JJ scored 7 tries over the tournament and had probably 3 times that many try saving tackles. Strong Day 2 performances from veterans Vix Folyan, Kelly Griffin, Devon Owsiany, & Jillion Potter inspired new players to a level of intensity and energy that renewed hope that this team can be Olympic medalists. After the USA’s second place finish in Houston last year, I asked Potter and former player Kimber Rozier if there was anything they wished journalists would ask. They laughed and joked about being asked their favorite color. After the Atlanta tournament I again asked Jillion this question. She smiled and said, “Ask me why I like this game.” Her reply was because of the camaraderie and sense of family that the team develops. She added that there is nothing they wouldn’t do for each other on the pitch. Jillion’s confidence and commitment to the team that she now captains is another factor in the rebuilding of a team that in 2 years should have a good shot at an Olympic medal.
In the interview with Nathalie Marchino I asked about the Eagles’ chances of winning gold against teams from New Zealand and Australia that are bringing in explosive teenagers to their squad when the USA’s new players tend to be in their early to mid-20s. Marchino felt this is a challenge for the USA to be seriously competitive against teams from countries where rugby is a national sport and the athletes grow up with lots more competition and have years to develop skills such as ball handling and distribution. She went on to identify the Eagles’ strength as their physicality and to compliment Coach Suggitt on being excellent at focusing on what the USA women are good at.
The Olympic qualification process has been published and it is very doubtful if the US Men will qualify. Nathalie was asked if the Olympic committee should consider dropping the Men’s side and focusing all financial support on the women to increase chances of having a medal. While recognizing the strong possibility that the men won’t be going to Rio, Marchino felt it was important to maintain support for the men and pointed out that this is the USA and when it comes to the Olympics, we have a way of making things happen.