Naya Tapper competes during a women's rugby sevens placing match against China at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 31, 2021 in Tokyo.
It had been more than two years since the U.S. women’s rugby sevens team reached a tournament championship, and this weekend in Malaga, Spain, they did more than that.
The Eagles made it to their first World Rugby Sevens Series final since winning in Glendale, Arizona, in the fall of 2019 and finished with a 35-10 victory over Russia in the first of back-to-back tournament weekends in Spain. They’ll play next weekend in Seville.
Olympian Kristen Thomas got things started for the U.S. in the final with an incredible run, charging past the Russian defense then racing in to score in the first minute of the match. Russia tied it two minutes later, but only managed one more score, coming in the ninth minute. Meanwhile, Olympian Naya Tapper scored in the fourth minute for the Eagles, Jaz Gray added a pair to the total and Olympian Ilona Maher, who was named player of the final, topped things off for the U.S. in their victory.
This weekend was also the first time back on the field since Tokyo for Olympians Lauren Doyle, Nicole Heavirland and Kristi Kirshe.
The season opened in November with back-to-back weekends in Dubai, and the U.S. finished eighth and fifth to put the team in fifth place overall. The squad moved up to fourth with the victory.
The U.S. men, also competing this weekend in Malaga, took sixth. That left the team fourth in the season standings.
The American women beat rival Canada and Poland in Pool B, which also included Fiji, but the Olympic bronze medalists had to withdraw due to travel restrictions. The U.S. then defeated England and France to reach the cup final.
Head coach Emilie Bydwell told USA Rugby heading into the weekend, “With only six World Series events this season, the next two tournaments will comprise the middle third of our season and will be important opportunities for us to define the next chapter for our team and take the necessary steps forward to build our platform for the 2022 Rugby World Cup.
“We will be focusing heavily on our ability to create line breaks, use momentum and field possession to inform decisions and improve our speed of support. Defensively, we will be looking to sure up our tackle completion, improve the integrity of our defensive shape and the speed at which we reconnect on transition play.”