VICHY, France. – As one of two special invites to the European Sevens Championship this past weekend, the Girls High School All-Americans Sevens powered by Atavus squad took on some tough competition as they looked to improve upon a runner-up finish in 2016. While the US got underway with convincing pool play, a well-matched defensive showdown with Portugal would end hopes for a 2017 European Championship title.
“Rugby Europe provided another invaluable experience for us as a team through the invitation to this tournament.” Said GHSAA Head Coach, Emilie Bydwell, “International competitive opportunities are so incredibly valuable.”
Athletes and coaches arrived in Vichy, France on Sunday September 10th for pre-tournament training, with team mentality focused on cohesion and recognizing strengths. “Our mindset was geared towards coming together as a team, developing understanding & execution on attack and defense, and specific micro-skills we identified as important for the girls to be successful.” Continued Bydwell, “We developed players understanding of their roles within the team, hopefully allowing them to narrow their focus and excel where they are strong.”
Pool B matches began for the US with a solid display against Russia, winning 35-17. Each side traded scores in the early going, but Missouri’s Kiarah Mosley would give the All-Americans a 14-12 edge after a speedy try, just as time expired in the first half. That would be her second break away for points in the first 7 minutes, with Kathryn Stowers making both conversions.
Relatively new to rugby, Mosely impressed on the wing with a background running track. Post tournament, she is eligible for the Youth Olympic Games.
Moving into the second half, scoring was one-sided in favor of the US as they held Russia to only one try, and notched three in their own column. #27 Emile Henrich would bring back a kick off in the opening seconds, while Alexandra Dimarco would capitalize on a goal line turnover for points. #5 Lolohea Makaafi concluded the match in the try zone, shortly after substituting. Stowers would again convert, going 5/5 in the opening match.
A member of the U20 team, Henrich’s experience in international competition was an established resource for the younger players.
Next up the United States would clash with Wales in a much closer competition, narrowly winning by 2 points after a strong drive and Mosley try in the final seconds of the match. The 26-24 victory was an uphill battle as the team came back from a 17-point deficient early in the second half. Cassidy Bargell, playing in her second year with the GSHAA, would provide two crucial scores and Henrich one of her own.
Bydwell recognized the impressive start. “The first two games on day one gave the players confidence in their ability to perform under pressure, and come from behind. The Wales game was a great display of composure and character to end that game with a win.”
Stand out Julia Riekena impressed with her aerialist play, keeping the US in position to regain possession on kick offs.
In their final pool play match, the US would score early but soon have trouble keeping up with England’s pace. A goal line reach from #27 Henrich and Stowers conversion would be the only points in the American column.
“…we emphasized that a game like that, on Day 1, provides valuable lessons going into the quarterfinals,” noted Bydwell, “…we highlighted opportunities created but not capitalized on, to highlight that we were able to create try scoring opportunities, and then key things needed to convert those into points.”
Following a 2nd seed finish in Pool B with a 2-1 record, the All-Americans found themselves starting the knockout round in rainy conditions with Portugal who also finished 2-1 in Pool C. The US would drive early, with two scrums in striking distance of the try zone, but just missed the pay dirt after Portugal found a way to clear from their end. Shortly after the Americans would threaten again with an outside lob to Brianna Vasquez from Emily Henrich. Vasquez would however take a hard tackle from behind and be slow to get up. Later trotting off on her own, Kiarah Mosely would sub in.
After the timeout, Portugal’s Jessica Silva would capitalize on a US turnover and race pitch length for the only points of the game. The second half would continue to see even keeled play and Portugal defense hold strong at the goal line, leading to a 7-0 upset.
“Portugal put in a great quarterfinal performance, especially on defense. Reviewing the video with the players, there were handling errors that kept us out of the try zone, and times where we took the trap of good space vs best space. Although disappointing to not return to the top 4 again this year, incredibly valuable lessons came out of our quarterfinal performance.”
The Girls High School All-Americans powered by Atavus would continue through the Plate finales with two losses to Ireland, 15-7, and later Netherlands, 26-12. Finishing the tournament 8th place overall. Captain, Cassidy Bargell, would win the player’s player award.
“The team mentality for both players and the staff, [is] more work needs to be done outside of assembly for us to be successful at the international 7s level. The players want to work harder – and we now have a better lens to focus that work.” Bydwell continued.
As a representative on the USA Rugby Performance Game Board, the reformed congregation responsible for overseeing performance pathways to elite levels of Women’s and Men’s rugby, Bydwell recognizes the importance of growth in domestic contest, “We also need to continue to examine our competition structure to increase the level of domestic competition and better prepare athletes for what they see internationally.”
Match replays and results from the Girls High School All-Americans powered by Atavus play at European Sevens Championship can be found at Rugby Europe.