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Evan Lappen photo

For the first time in team history, the 7s USWNT booked its third-straight trip to the semifinals Saturday, beating Russia 7-5 in the quarterfinal round in Sydney. That sets up a meeting with New Zealand at 4:34 p.m. CT Saturday.

The Eagles reached the top eight as the second-place team out of Pool C, sandwiching a loss to Spain with wins over China and Australia. Highlighting the effort was the debut of Kristi Kirshe, who scored in all three pool matches. The lowlight was losing budding start Ilona Maher for the tournament to an ankle injury. The crowning achievement was beating the hosts in the pool finale, rebounding from the Spain upset.

Jordan Gray-Matyas, Kirshe and Naya Tapper all scored in the first half against Australia, giving the USA a 19-0 lead at intermission. Tapper’s try saw her surpass Vix Folayan as the USA’s all-time leading try scorer. The Eagles conceded two tries in the second half, but Australia was never in danger of taking the lead.   

In the quarterfinal, Russia drew blood in the second minute, when the USA’s blitz defense got caught too far on the front foot. A grubber kick through the American line was scooped up by the sprinting Baizat Khamidova, who fended Joanne Fa’avesi en route to a try. The conversion was missed, making it 5-0.

The USA played defense most of the first half, and they needed to. Fa’avesi saved a try by pushing one wing into touch. Alev Kelter prevented another by forcing knock-on just five meters from the USA’s own try line.

In the second half, the Eagles played more defense, and when they were on offense, they struggled to move the ball effectively. All-time try leader Naya Tapper was lost to an apparent head injury midway through the half, clouding the USA’s chances. A flurry of Russian penalties put the Eagles in the attacking end in the final minute, the last of which Jordan Gray-Matyas quick-tapped, offloading to Cheta Emba in traffic at the try line for the score. The game-winning conversion was nailed, giving the Eagles the 7-5 win.