The U.S. women’s rugby sevens team didn’t need to win the last event of the season in order to accomplish one of its biggest goals.
In fact, all the team had to do was show up at the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series finale in Biarritz, France, and a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would officially be theirs.
Winning certainly didn’t hurt, though.
After plowing through the field during Saturday’s pool play and Sunday’s medal rounds, the second-place Eagles toppled first-place New Zealand for their first-ever tournament title, winning 26-10.
This was the Eagles’ best season ever, and their next-best wasn’t even close. Their top finish in the series prior to this year was fourth, and they had never reached the podium at more than one tournament in any single season. This was their fifth medal in six tournaments in 2019, and their first gold. They finish in second place overall behind New Zealand.
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The contest was a rematch of the championship game in the season opener in Glendale, Colorado. New Zealand got the best of the U.S. in that one, spoiling the Eagles’ chances of winning their first-ever series title on home soil, 33-7.
Sunday was a different story.
Alev Kelter scored early to give the U.S. a 5-0 lead. Then Cheta Emba found a gap, scoring again to make it 12-0. Although New Zealand got on the board, Kelter scored again to give the U.S. a 19-5 lead going into halftime.
Lauren Doyle scored for the U.S right out of the gate to start the second half and New Zealand was quickly faced with an insurmountable deficit.
The top four teams to end the 2019 season received Olympic berths, and the U.S. went into the weekend 20 points ahead of fifth-place France. The Eagles needed just one point in order to secure the Olympic bid, which they got just for stepping on the field for their first match. In 2016, the year that rugby sevens made its Olympic debut, the women secured their trip to Rio via a second-chance regional tournament in which they finished fifth.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.