The most successful season in team history just got even more memorable.
All the U.S. women’s rugby team had to do was take the field for its first game at this weekend’s HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series finale in Biarritz, France, in order to clinch a top-four series finish and a berth at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The second-ranked USA Women’s Eagles Sevens did just that for their match against China to open the France Sevens tournament Saturday. Now they go for their fifth medal in six tournaments this season, with pool play contests remaining against Fiji and France today, before the playoff round on Sunday.
This weekend’s tournament continues a rapid ascent for the U.S. team.
Three years ago, when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in Rio, the U.S. qualified via a second-chance regional tournament and went on to reach the quarterfinals, where the team fell to eventual champion Australia. The U.S. ultimately finished fifth in Rio.
Coming into the 2018–19 World Series, the U.S. had never finished higher than fourth in the series standings, which it did in 2013, or reached the podium at more than one tournament in a given season.
The latter was surpassed by the third stop in 2018-19, and the Americans came into France with four medals in five tries — a silver to open the season in Glendale, Colorado, followed by three consecutive medals in Sydney, Kitakyushu, Japan, and Langford, British Columbia. Along with a fourth-place finish in the second tournament, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the U.S. is the only team to finish among the top four in each of the first five tournaments.
Most important, though, is the season standings. With their finish in Langford, the Eagles ranked second in the standings and needed just one point in Biarritz to secure a top-four finish and a spot at the Olympic Games. In earning the berth through the world series, which is the first opportunity to qualify, the team avoids what could have been a drawn-out process. The second-chance regional qualifier is set for July, with a last-chance repechage tournament to determine the final teams for Tokyo next summer.
In addition to Team USA, top-ranked New Zealand has also secured its spot in Tokyo. Canada and Australia, in third and fourth place, are in position to qualify.
A relatively young rugby country, the U.S. has emerged as a medal contender alongside more traditional rugby nations such as Australia and New Zealand, which won the gold and silver medals in Rio.
The recent success has come under the direction of coach Chris Brown, who took over the top job for the women’s team in October after four years as an assistant with the men. Brown inherited a player pool that features three Olympians and several rising stars, many of whom were previously standouts in other sports.
Together, they hit the ground running.
Through the first five tournaments, Naya Tapper had played in all 30 games for the balanced U.S. team, with Kris Thomas and Olympian Lauren Doyle having played in 29. Olympian Alev Kelter led the squad in total scoring with 123 points.