LVI 2016 Day Two: Stadium calls for Semifinalist Falcons

LAS VEGAS - The two USA Falcons squads will be playing in the same stadium as the Men's Eagles Sevens this weekend, as the men and women have reached their respective Cup Semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational.

The Falcons presented by Penn Mutual played two of three pool matches Thursday, and completed pool play with a 22-0 shutout of South Africa Select in one of the day's first matches. Kristen Thomas, Naya Tapper, and Kate Zackary scored second-half tries and capitalized on the team's comfort in executing Head Coach Jules McCoy's defensive systems.

With a five-hour break between the third pool match and their Cup Quarterfinal, the Falcons rested, and it showed in a second comprehensive shutout of a Stars Rugby team at the LVI in as many days.

Carmen Farmer used her strength to finish a great run with a fend and offload to Ryan Carlyle for the opening try. The Falcons played smart, knowing when to pull play back when the attack was not on and when to "have a go," and Zackary scored to give the team a 12-0 lead at halftime.

Meya Bizer took the second-half restart through three defenders before hitting Farmer with an offload, and Carlyle finished the attack in the corner of the try zone. Carlyle combined with Bizer on a switch play a minute later, and the Falcons moved the ball through hands to Tapper on the wing for the score. Tapper added her second following a defensive stand that kept Stars from exiting its own 22 - though the opponent was not able to take the ball over the midfield line throughout the 14 minutes - and Nicole Heavirland rounded out the match with a try for a 34-0 final.

The Falcons conceded just five points through pool play and one knockout-round match, but understand the best competition is yet to come in the Women's Elite 7s division of the LVI. Developmental sides from Canada, Team GB, and France are also in the Cup Semifinals.

The Semifinalists will have a day of rest Saturday before the competition resumes inside Sam Boyd Stadium for both the Semifinals and Final Sunday.

"I feel like we've played well enough to beat the four team we've played," McCoy said. "The other teams that are going to be in the Semis are fantastic teams and they're going to be more of a challenge for us than the teams we've already played.

"We have new faces, they have new faces, and everybody wants their new faces to beat the other new faces," McCoy said of the Canadian, English, and French sides familiar to the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series circuit. "The challenge is going to be - for any team going in there - less about the competition and more about how we handle pressure. Being able to play in that stadium under pressure is going to be a test for us, and it's going to be a test for them.

"Our plan is to be more prepared between the ears than the other teams."

The Falcons presented by Penn Mutual's Cup Semifinal matchup against France Select will kick off Sunday, March 6, at 10 a.m. PT. A loss would end the team's LVI, while a win would book its ticket to the Final at 1:48 p.m. PT.

The men went undefeated through Americas Cup 7s pool play Thursday, and faced the prospect of either one or two knockout matches Friday. A Cup Quarterfinal win would send the Falcons through to a Saturday Semifinal and Final slate, while a loss would see them finish their Las Vegas excursion in a one-off match later in the day.

The Falcons did their business in the Quarterfinal, dispatching Northeast Academy's team, 24-12, in a hard-fought contest. Aaron Davis powered through a few defenders on the match's opening kickoff to set up a deeper attacking platform, and Thretton Palamo dummied his way into the attacking half. Pat Blair sealed the attack with a step past a defender and a dot-down in-goal through an attempted tackle.

Davis drew a high tackle a few minutes later, and a second infraction in the same attack forced match official Derek Summers to send a Northeast player to the sin bin. Captain Peter Tiberio found the try zone for a 12-0 lead, and kept play alive from a Northeast knock ahead of the halftime whistle to set up Davis for a try.

Northeast cut into the 17-0 deficit not long after the second-half restart, with Richard Kirkland beating ConRoy Smith in a footrace along the wing. Smith did not wait until the "finish" line to prove he was faster, diving for the tackle to keep his opposite number out, but failing to bring down his man. Derek Lipscomb, another athlete attempting to impress national team selectors, backed himself against three Falcons defenders for a 50-meter try and 17-12 score line.

The Falcons were without the ball for much of the remaining minutes of the half and made matters worse with successive lost lineouts within meters of their own try zone, but put Northeast in an uncomfortable position heading into the dying seconds of play. With an already-lengthy attack going nowhere, Northeast attempted a kick through to the try line, which was snuffed out by Tiberio. He popped the ball out to Jope Motokana, who ran with Seth Halliman to midfield before giving the Central Washington University student-athlete the ball for the match-sealing try.

The win sets up a Saturday Semifinal against Devita Fiji, a developmental side of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series-leading Fijians. The match will be played inside Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, March 5, between HSBC USA Sevens matches at 10:50 a.m. PT. The Final will kick off at 3:19 p.m. PT.

*More on the Boys High School All-Americans, who went 2-1 in the U-18 Boys Varsity 7s division, to come . . .

USA Falcons sponsored by Penn Mutual | Las Vegas Invitational

1. Carmen Farmer

2. Meya Bizer

3. Kate Zackary

4. Ashley Perry

5. Nicole Heavirland

6. Irene Gardner

7. Ryan Carlyle

8. Hunter Griendling

9. Richelle Stephens

10. Jessica Javelet

11. Kristen Thomas

12. Naya Tapper

USA Falcons sponsored by Penn Mutual | Las Vegas Invitational

v. Brazil Women's 7s - W 36-0

v. Stars Rugby 2 - W 40-5

v. South Africa Select - W 22-0

Cup QF v. Stars Rugby 1 - W 34-0

Cup SF v. France Select - Sunday, March 6 @ 10 a.m. PT


USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

Pat Blair

Aaron Davis - 1823 / Tiger Rugby

Seth Halliman - Central Washington University

Tua Laei - Brigham Young University / Rugby Utah

Ben Leatigaga - U.S. Army World-Class Athlete Program

Matai Leuta

Jope Motokana - Seattle Saracens

Thretton Palamo

ConRoy Smith

Joey Sok - Columbus Rugby Club / Tiger Rugby

Shalom Suniula

Peter Tiberio (C)

USA Falcons | Las Vegas Invitational

v. Florida RDA - W 27-0

v. France Development - W 21-12

v. Tumatauenga - W 24-7

Cup QF v. Northeast Academy - W 24-12

Cup SF v. Devita Fiji - Saturday, March 5 @ 10:50 a.m. PT