Thursday, February 6, 2014

Open Bracket Review with More Coverage by Rugby Mag

One of the most rewarding aspects of our inaugural Stars assembly was how our Open side came together and really elevated their play. As the only team entered where players hadn't met before and were literally learning new names with each match, we took a 1-2 pool play record on Thursday.

We converted that momentum into 2 wins Friday over the Black Mambas and Combined Services team to reach the Plate Final. We ultimately lost to the Michigan Mutts - a team with Midwest players most notably from Detroit Women, Chicago North Shore, and the Milwaukee Scylla which all have extensive 7s experience. Placing 6th out of 24 teams with only one practice session under their belts was a testament to our Stars ethos of team building, camaraderie, and seeking those players who aspire to a higher level and back it up with their performances. It also stands to note that our pool featured several current/former age-grade and senior Eagles on both the Youngbloodz and Team Lola - not the easiest draw! A special Stars shout out to flyhalf Kim Semiglia who took home the Open MVP award as our leading try scorer with amazing kick returns.

Here's the Rugby Mag Open Recap from Day 1:

Women's Open Crown in The Royals' Future?
Tournaments - LVI

Half of the fun of the Women’s Open 7s division at the Las Vegas Invitational is deciphering all of the team names, learning their back stories, and finding notable players in different uniforms. For instance, Team Lola is essentially D.C. Furies’ Jeanna Beard’s bachelorette party; Rock is a group of 17- to 21-year-olds from Newfoundland; and Dark & Stormy is representing – you guessed it – Bermuda. Oh look, there’s Joanna Kitlinski playing for the Michigan Mutts; the Jackson sisters are back playing with BYU; and RUGBYMag 2013 College 7s Player of the Year, Rose Bernheim, is anchoring the U.S. Combined Services.

The match we want to see tomorrow? The Royals v Japan 2 (pictured). (Dobson Images)
The match we want to see tomorrow? The Royals v Japan 2 (pictured). (Dobson Images)
There was little background knowledge on The Royals as well, until the team lined up for its opening kickoff. The most stacked team in the competition (except Japan Select 2), the motley side paired five Berkeley players (including RUGBYMag 2013 Women’s Club 7s Player of the Year Irene Gardner and sister Elaine) with Evan Hoese and Emily Malkin out of Boston, Jess Wooden from Atlanta, and a couple of players from Los Angeles.

“Originally I wanted an All Blues team, but it was tough to gather interest in the off-season,” Gardner said of her Club 7s Championship home team. “I wanted to get more 7s play in because we don’t get that much at the club level.”

The Royals didn’t encounter too much resistance today, as the team shut out its three pool opponents: Minnesota Tundra 68-0, Kalihi Raiders 46-0 and the Raptors 39-0. A pretty big accomplishment considering Gardner had not met two of her teammates before today, and others were competing in their first 7s tournament.

The expectation is that The Royals will face Japan in the final. The developmental side displayed all of the traits of its senior team – devastatingly tricky feet, fearless in contact, and very well drilled.
“Their fundamentals are strong, and you can tell that they play together, so they’ll have that up on us,” Gardner said of Japan. “But we’re looking forward to it. It’s tough to know what your competition is going to be like in the Open division, so we’re excited to play some good 7s tomorrow.”

The Royals and Japan were playing in a different tier today, although Team LOLA (Jess Shipley, Cynthia Wright, Meredith McAlister), Youngbloodz (Michelle Wong, Debbie Stenoien) and BYU (Jordan Gray, Jackson sisters) also had good days. Gardner assured that The Royals were gunning for the title and wouldn’t let LVI evening festivities affect tomorrow’s 9 a.m. Cup Quarterfinal. Safe to say Japan’s thinking the same thing.
Stay tuned …

And on the Open Day 2 Final:

The Royals Triumph Over Japan
Tournaments - LVI

As predicted, The Royals and Japan Select 2 met in the Women’s Open 7s final. The two proved quite convincingly that they were the best teams at the Las Vegas Invitational during day one, and the title bout was the highlight of the tournament.
Jess Wooden accounted for 23 of The Royals' points in the final. (Dobson Images)
Jess Wooden accounted for 23 of The Royals' points in the final. (Dobson Images)
Japan showcased some nice speed, but it wasn't enough to get around The Royals' defense. (Dobson Images)
Japan showcased some nice speed, but it wasn't enough to get around The Royals' defense. (Dobson Images)
The motley showcased players from the Bay Area, L.A., Atlanta and Boston. (Dobson Images)
The motley showcased players from the Bay Area, L.A., Atlanta and Boston. (Dobson Images)
Although The Royals triumphed 42-17, the game was much closer than the point differential indicated. There were no signs of handicapping fatigue or any drop in physicality. Japan was stunning one on one, showcasing the freezing footwork for which the team is known. They were crisp and relentless. The Royals were not outmatched and had an edge in size, but they could also put away their biggest player for the breakaway try.
In fact, most of The Royals’ tries were breakaways, evolving after a feisty midfield battle with both sides punishing one another for slow support to the tackle. Japan had one big player, a Fijian nicknamed Raite, who could bend the defensive line; however, Evan Hoese was particularly effective in subduing ballcarriers who tested the gainline.
Although the motley team performed cohesively, one player did stand out: Jess Wooden. The Atlanta fullback, who is in the Eagle 15s pool, hasn’t played much 7s, but she scored three of The Royals’ six tries, and proved to have the best straightaway speed on the field. Her first score came after first leaping over a would-be tackler.

“I can’t remember if it came off a turnover, but the referee was in the middle of the field, and that was like a nice pick for me,” Wooden said. “Some of the defenders ran into him.”

Modest, but Wooden did well to exploit half-gaps and chase down some Japanese breaks.
“They were difficult, fast, and worked well as a team,” Wooden said of her opponent. “They were technically sound and could move the ball really well, and they all have a good step, too. It was a lot different than some of our earlier games.”

There was one exception, of course: Team Lola during the playoffs.

“They were fun,” Wooden said. “They’re a mix of a bunch of players too and had some really great players – the ones you hear about all the time and think: God, we have to play them? But it’s nice to play people who know what they’re doing. They give you a good game and that’s what you want.”

In the final, The Royals worked the sidelines and the holes opened up as the ball recycled back across the field. In addition to Wooden, Hoese, Lucy Croy and Sarah Davis scored the tries. Hoese added two conversions, and Wooden tackled on four.

The Women’s Open was the only other 7s division for women besides the Elite. The Royals certainly could have competed at that level, and maybe they will next year now that the team name has some notoriety. Wooden was necessarily so concerned about that, just enjoying the Las Vegas experience and making an already good weekend better.

“I’m usually injured during the 7s season, so this was a lot of fun,” Wooden said. “I was just excited to be invited to the team, and playing with all these girls – they’re all really good and come from different teams. We just sort of put it together and meshed really well. This [the trophy] just makes it that much sweeter.”

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