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One Change, Big Plans for Eagle Women In Sydney

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One Change, Big Plans for Eagle Women In Sydney

Sam Sullivan has added a spark to the USA team. Mike Lee KLC fotos for World Rugby.

Still 3rd in the Sevens World Series, the USA Women's 7s team is in an excellent position to claim one of the four automatic berths into the 2024 Olympics; but 1st is also on their minds.

The Eagles have been third twice and second once (last week). That Hamilton performance was interesting in that their defense was exceptional as was their discipline—no penalties conceded in a 10-7 win over Australia in the semifinal. But they also found Michaela Blyde and New Zealand a bridge too far. 

So this week in Sydney has to be about a) getting the job done in keep clear of #4 Ireland and b) trying to haul in those teams ahead of them.

Leading the way for the USA in many ways is relative newcomer Sam Sullivan. Sullivan was (along with Cristian Rodriguez) the first Prusmack Award winner as the best collegiate 7s player, awarded in 2019.

See Video Interview by Alex Goff with Sam Sullivan and Cristian Rodriguez>>

Sullivan earned that thanks to an MVP performance at the CRC and an overall brilliant showing for West Point. The North Carolina native, who hoped to play soccer at West Point, found herself without a sport and then quickly snapped up by the ever-vigilant Bill LeClerc, head coach of the women's rugby program there. Sullivan was a NIRA All-American (NCAA Varsity Rugby) three times, and a NIRA All-Academic recipient as well. In her entire career at West Point, in 7s and 15s, she scored 122 tries, and this despite the fact that the 2020 7s season was canceled because of COVID.

Smart (Computer Science major), physically tough, and athletic, Sullivan was tracked into the US Army's World Class Athlete Program and in a way was able to do that with no pressure to make the USA 7s team early on. COVID and the disruption to the World Series allowed her to just get to work and get settled as a US Army Officer (see photo above).

But now what we see is burgeoning confidence. Sullivan sees a chance, she takes it. The leadership engendered in the US Military Academy (her brother was also a Cadet and her father a Green Beret) is obvious here. The pecking order is about getting the job done. The result has been 11 tries in her first three tournaments, good for the most on the USA team and 7th on the World Series. 

Sullivan isn't the only star, of course. Ilona Maher is among the leaders in the DHL Performance Tracker and has done so by forcing defenses to commit to her. That has resulted in fewer tries for her and more for those who are on the end of a Maher offload—Cheta Emba, Naya Tapper. 

Tapper, for her part, achieves the 30 tournament milestone this weekend in Sydney. Co-captain of the team she still has pace, but can battle in the trenches too. 

Sydney 7s

Sarah Levy has been called in as Jaz Gray returns home injured. Gray's absence will be a tough blow, but they do have players to step in, even if they don't quite have her game-changing pace. Levy is quick and tenacious, and will be required to give key minutes.

"She is a dynamic player that has the ability to win one-on-one battles and create opportunities for us so she will be a good addition as we look towards week two," said Head Coach Emilie Bydwell. “Whenever we have back-to-back tournaments we are always really excited to have the opportunity to turn our learnings from week one around into match play immediately.  We showed some really positive progressions last week on both sides of the ball but most exciting was our ability to translate more of the attacking style that we’ve been training on to the pitch.  But as it happens with 7s, some teams have made some adjustments to how they defend so we’ve had an opportunity to take a look at that this week so we can be really clear on how to break down the pictures we will see over the weekend."

The Eagles are in Pool B with Great Britain, Fiji, and Canada. Now, in another year this would have been the Pool of Death. But Canada is struggling a little bit, as is GB. But ... but Great Britain is lurking and improving. Their 5th-place finish in Hamilton is perhaps a sign that they could edge into the top four. Well ... maybe not. They lost two big shutouts to New Zealand and Australia, beat Japan on conversions, and also beat Fiji twice. GB and Fiji are quite close in quality if not in style, and both have the ability to unseat the USA if the Eagles are not on-point, but the USA defense has been really good so far.

All games live on Peacock:
USA vs Canada 8:22PM ET Thursday (tonight)
USA vs Fiji 2:00AM ET Friday (early morning)
USA vs Great Britain 8:28PM ET Friday night

USA roster to play at the Sydney 7s:
1. Cheta Emba; 2. Ilona Maher; 3. Kayla Canett; 4. Nicole Heavirland; 5. Alex "Spiff" Sedrick; 6. Alena Olsen; 7. Naya Tapper (C); 9. Joanne "Nana" Fa’avesi; 11. Kristen Thomas; 12. Kristi Kirshe; 13. Sarah Levy; 22. Sammy Sullivan; 23. Lauren Doyle (C)