Women's Rugby Preview

After making its debut at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, rugby sevens is back on the Olympic program for its second edition. Previously, the men’s 15-a-side version of rugby was in the Olympic program in the 1900s, where the United States won gold in 1920 and 1924. The 15-a-side version, known formally as rugby union, still exists in a non-Olympic capacity. But sevens has become popular worldwide for its quick pace — lasting just two seven-minute halves — and increased scoring with fewer players on the field.

Since its inclusion in the Olympic Games, rugby sevens has seen tremendous growth, with the sport’s debut in Rio attracting 30 million new fans around the world, according to Nielsen reports. In 2018, the Rugby World Cup Sevens became the first ever U.S.-hosted Rugby World Cup, bringing 200,000 fans to AT&T Park in San Francisco and engaging another 9 million viewers across NBC broadcasts.

In 2019, the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens achieved their most successful season in history. In six tournaments in the World Rugby Sevens Series, the women claimed five medals, including a historic first ever gold, one silver and three consecutive bronzes. Never before had the United States won more than two medals in a single season, and the U.S. was the only women’s team to make all six semifinals. The team ended the season with qualification to the Olympic Games and a program-high world ranking of No. 2. They will enter Tokyo as a top four seed.

In previous years, the U.S. women had never ranked higher than fifth place. At the conclusion of the season, head coach Chris Brown won Coach of the Series honors for his outstanding leadership.

Before the 2020 season was abruptly ended due to COVID-19, the U.S. added another gold at their home tournament in Colorado, as well as a bronze in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The season was officially cancelled with the U.S. in fifth place.

Updated on June 21, 2021. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

• The 12-woman U.S. roster has almost completely turned over from the squad that finished fifth in Rio. Only Lauren Doyle and Alev Kelter return from the 2016 team. The team is also now under the direction of head coach Chris Brown, who was previously the assistant coach for the men’s sevens team.

• The U.S. has seen multi-sport athletes flourish. At least half of the 12 players who won the program’s first World Series gold medal at the 2019 France Sevens in Biarritz, France, competed in varsity soccer, track and field or basketball in either high school or college. A few of these athletes on the Olympic team are Kristi Kirshe, who broke records in soccer at Williams College; Cheta Emba, who picked up rugby to cross-train for soccer at Harvard University; and Naya Tapper who ran track and field in high school.  

• In 2019, Tapper became the highest try scorer in team history when she scored her 65th try to pass 2016 Olympian Victoria Folayan. By the close of the 2019-20 season, Kelter had reached and passed the milestone herself, holding the top spot with 93 career World Series tries. Tapper is close behind at 86.

• Alev Kelter, 30, is a former college hockey player who played with Team USA at the 2009 Under-18 world championships, winning a gold medal as team captain. She’s been a key player on the sevens national team too as its all-time leading scorer.

• Kristi Kirshe, 26, is a former star soccer player at Williams College who picked up rugby and made her national team debut all in 2019. Kirshe has made eight career World Series appearances since.

• Ilona Maher, 24, won the MA Sorenson Award at Quinnipiac University, an award given to the best women’s rugby player in the nation. Her speed and physical play helped earn her a place on the national team, making her debut at the 2018 Paris Sevens.

• Kris Thomas, who turned 28 on July 1, took over as co-captain at the start the 2020 season, trading her track and field background for the team environment of rugby. Thomas has played in world cups in 15s and sevens.

• July 29, 2021: The women’s rugby competition kicks off with pool round matches
• July 30, 2021: Placing matches and quarterfinals 
• July 31, 2021: Placing matches, semifinals and bronze- and gold-medal matches