TORONTO -- The U.S. men’s and women’s rugby squads capped off an impressive campaign at the Pan American Games, recording nine wins and outscoring opponents by a 4:1 margin to earn the women’s silver and men’s bronze medal.
After the men and women’s teams swept the board to a perfect 6-0 record on the opening day of tournament play, the U.S. got out to a strong start on the final day of competition.
“We’ve been pretty solid in the tournament so far, and working together as a team which is the most important, to play as a team,” said flyhalf Hannah Lopez after her squad outscored Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, 120-14, on the opening day of tournament play.
On Day 2, the U.S. women earned an early win over the same Mexican squad they defeated handily, 88-0, in the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships in June, when they qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Despite falling to Canada, 34-12, in the final round of preliminary play, the U.S. women earned a spot in the gold-medal match, where they would again meet the hometown team.
“Canada is our biggest rival,” flyhalf Irene Gardner told media of the top-ranked team in the tournament. Canada came in as the women’s tournament favorite after having finished second in the 2015 World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series rankings. The U.S. finished the season ranked fifth.
In the gold-medal match, the U.S. took an early lead with a try to go up 7-0, but Canada answered back and scored 55 unanswered points to seal the win and the gold medal. After the Pan Am Games, the U.S. women are turning their focus to the debut of rugby sevens at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“Canada gave us a clinic in the end there and that’s a lesson well-learned,” noted head coach Ric Suggitt. “We have to play another five levels up to compete with that. I’m glad we got into the final, but again that’s a wake-up call getting us ready for the Olympics next year.”
Meanwhile, the men cruised to a 71-0 victory over Guyana in the morning match and advanced to face host nation Canada in the semifinals. In a rematch of the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships Final, where they defeated the Canadian side, 21-5, the U.S. fell to Canada, 26-19, when their opponent scored with zeros on the clock, despite a strong effort from Carlin Isles, who recorded two tries in the game.
The men rallied to win the bronze medal in a 40-12 victory over Uruguay, with Perry Baker leading the charge, recording two tries for Team USA. Canada went on to defeat Argentina, 22-19, to claim the gold medal.
“We didn’t get what we wanted, but it shows a sign of a good team to bounce back in the last game and come out here and put on a performance,” Perry Baker told media after the win.
The U.S. will look to bring this momentum into the Rio Games next year, as the men’s program continues to grow and shift focus on what it will take to earn the gold medal.
“(We have to) keep putting in hard work,” Baker continued. “Don’t become satisfied with what we have accomplished or where we’re at, just keep digging harder and harder each day we get the opportunity to strap up our boots and take the pitch.”