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Eagles in Atlanta (Photo by Mike Lee)

The last time the Eagles played in a Cup final during the World Rugby Women’s Sevens World Series was, ironically, on American soil in Houston during the inaugural season in 2013.  This past weekend, they battled for first place again in the Atlanta 7s competition, falling to New Zealand with a final score of 50-12.  The Eagles faced two of their opponents twice over the weekend, Russia and New Zealand, with consistency in results against each.  The competition was held in the Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University.

They kicked off the competition in pool play with a big win over South Africa.  Victoria Folayan, the Eagle’s all time points leader, finished the first half with an impressive hat trick.  Jessica Javelet connected with Akalaini  Baravilala to end the first half with a score, giving the Eagles a 26-0 lead.   South Africa drew first blood two minutes into the second half bringing the score 26-5.   But impact substitutions Kristen Thomas and Kate Zachary, respectively, scored a try each of their own, closing out the match with a 36-5 victory. 

In match two of pool play, the Eagles defeated Russia 19-12 in their second pool match.  Megan Bonny, dotted down the first try of the match.   Over four minutes elapsed before Kristen Thomas ran 80-meters to score between the post.  Baravilala made the easy conversion.   The US was not done for the half, however.  With time expired on the clock, Javelet scored her second try of the tournament and again, Baravilala converted, giving the Eagles a 19-0 lead at halftime.  Russia returned to the second half mounting much more pressure defensively.  In the final minutes of the match, they scored two tries but it was too little too late. 

The US fell to New Zealand 57-0 in their final pool match.  Within two minutes of the start, New Zealand realized their first try.  They contested almost every phase of play and contact, turning over the Eagle’s possession with pressuring kickoffs, poaches in rucks, and strong runs through the defense.  Despite the loss, the Eagles advanced to Sunday’s Cup round.

Australia’s aspirations to compete in the Cup finals were dismissed by Team USA during the quarterfinals on Sunday.  Australia took a 5-0 lead early in the first half.  But minutes later, Kathryn Johnson dummy passed her opposition and stepped inside to score her first try of the tournament and tie the match at 5-5.  The contest continued into the second half but with only seconds remaining on the game clock, Kristen Thomas scored the winning try in the corner to send the US in to the Cup semifinals.

The Eagles defeated Russia in the Cup semifinals with a score of 19-14.   Folayan scored the first try to give the Eagles a 5-0 lead.  Lauren Doyle followed up with a try that was converted by Baravilala to give the Eagles a 12-0 lead going into the half.  Two-minutes into the second half, Alev Kelter was sinbinned for a high tackle but it did it did not adversely affect the USA squad.  Folayan touched down her second try a short while after and with the conversion, the Eagles extended their lead to 19-0.  But Russia, a very strong team who earlier had defeated England in the quarterfinals, mounted a comeback scoring two converted tries before the expiration of the match.  The Eagles advanced to the finals with a 19-14 victory over Russia.

The second place finish in Atlanta puts Team USA just two points from fourth place.  The top four teams at the conclusion of the 2015 World Rugby World Series will automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  The next stop on the circuit is in Langford, Victoria (Canada) April 18-19. 

Disclaimer: Phaidra Knight is a current Eagle training at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.  She has represented the US as both a sevens and fifteens player since 1999.  She can be contacted at phaidraknight@gmail.com.