Women's Rugby Preview

Rugby Sevens enters its second-ever inclusion in the Olympic Games after making an exciting debut at Rio 2016. 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.

Since its inclusion in the Olympic Games, rugby sevens has seen tremendous growth with an increase in 17 million fans worldwide, with Tokyo expected to garner an additional 30 million according to Neilson reports. In 2018, 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 nine million viewers across NBC broadcasts.

In 2019, the USA Women’s National Rugby Sevens Team achieved its most successful season in history. In six tournaments, 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 Olympics and a program-high world ranking of No, 2.

In previous years, the USA Women’s National Rugby Sevens Team 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 USA added another gold and first ever at their home tournament in Colorado, as well as a bronze in Dubai, United Arab Emirates The season was officially cancelled with the United States in fifth place.

Updated on July 16, 2020. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

USA Women Soar with Crossover Athletes: Under the direction of head coach Chris Brown, who was previously the assistant coach for the men’s sevens team, the U.S. have seen crossover athletes flourish all season. At least half of the 12 players who won the program’s first gold medal in Biarritz, France, competed in varsity soccer, track and field, or basketball in either high school or college. A few of these athletes are: rookie 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.  

The Race to become Top Try Scorer: In 2019, Tapper became the highest try scorer in team history when she scored her  65th try to pass 2016 Olympian Victoria Folayan. When the 2020 season began, Alev Kelter reached and passed the milestone herself, now holding the top spot with 93 career world series tries. Tapper is close behind at 86 tries, where both players could reclaim the final position by the end of the season.  

Coaches Excel with Culture: It was often asked what made the difference in helping the women achieve their most successful season of all time. The simple answer is culture. Head coach Chris Brown, in his first year leading the women’s program, prioritized openness, acceptance and understanding amongst players to build a winning group. Under new leadership with many new players joining the player pool, the team had to quickly and effectively adapt to their new roles, accept one another, fight for each other regardless of the circumstances and operate under clear and open communication. These themes sound simple, but are constantly reinforced to keep continuity in sync. 

Ilona Maher (Burlington, Vermont)
Maher is an American rugby player through and through. Maher won the MA Sorenson Award at Quinnipiac University, an award given to the best women’s rugby player in the nation. She’s fast, physical and can easily fend past defenders to power her way through open space.  

Kris Thomas (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) 
Thomas took over as co-captain at the start the 2020 season, trading her track and field background for a magnetic team environment of rugby. Thomas shows great footwork on the field, and played in world cups in 15s and sevens. 

Kristi Kirshe (Boston, Massachusetts)
Kirshe is a former star soccer player at William’s College who picked up rugby and made her national team debut within a year. Kirshe is a powerful and smart runner who can set up tries as easily as she can score them herself. 

The USA women qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by finishing in the top four of the 2019-20 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. They will enter Tokyo as a top four seed regardless of their position in the 2020 or 2021 Series.
Coaches will evaluate players through the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 in both competition and high performance training camps. Selections will be made at the end of June 2021.
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series was cancelled due to COVID-19 while the 2021 season remains under review based on the pandemic and global travel restrictions.