Men’s Eagles Sevens reach new heights on the world stage

BOULDER, Colo. – An HSBC Sevens World Series Cup Final victory and a sixth-place finish on the season were deemed unrealistic achievements for the Men’s Eagles Sevens prior to the opening round in Australia last October. But for the hard-working men who adorned the USA kit this past season, the historic achievements are far from shocking.

“[Mike] Friday and [Chris] Brown laid a foundation on fitness, strength, and skill, but also a winning mindset,” said Eagles all-time points leader Zack Test of the team’s new coaching staff. “They taught us to show up to tournaments not as participants, but as a contender to win it.”

However, with just three months to work with Friday, Brown, and co. ahead of the Series opener, the wins didn’t pile up from the get-go. Ninth- and 11th-place finishes opened the campaign in Australia and Dubai, respectively. It wasn’t until the season’s third round that the Eagles began to soar to new heights, claiming a Plate Final win over eventual Series Champion Fiji.

A month after topping the flying Fijians for a Plate trophy and 13 points, the Eagles reached the Cup Semifinals for just the fourth time in team history while in Las Vegas at USA Sevens. Still, it’s impossible for the squad to pinpoint a moment during the season when the Eagles morphed into contenders on rugby sevens’ world stage.

“It’s a whole bunch of moments during the course of a season that culminate to turn a page,” Test explained. “As we continued to learn about one another and see how we reacted to different situations, we adapted and improved.”

With a talented collection of newcomers joining a core group of veterans, time was indeed needed for the team to begin scraping the surface of its potential. Strike runners Perry Baker and Martin Isosefo were bled into the team and made immediate impacts, while players like Danny Barrett, Madison Hughes, and Maka Unufe began to cement themselves as sevens stars. All the while, longtime Eagles such as Andrew Durutalo and Test managed to raise their standard of play to new heights.

The acceleration of the team’s on-field chemistry can be linked to the respect and admiration the players share with one another off of the pitch.

“We all enjoy each other on and off the field,” Test insisted. “The more you trust a guy off the field, the more you can grow together on the field. That’s when things become second nature between one another on the field – which is the way sevens should be played.”

Down the final stretch of the season, the Eagles continued to battle the choppy and unforgiving seas of the World Series. Results included the team’s fourth consecutive Cup Quarterfinal appearance in Hong Kong, and a Bowl Final win over Australia in Tokyo.

“Every tournament is going to have bright moments, and moments that make you think, ‘this is what we need to work on,’” Test said of the inevitable ups and downs.

With seven rounds of the season under their belts, the Eagles played their best rugby during the final two legs of the season.

In Glasgow, the Eagles showed mental fortitude, putting a blowout loss at the hands of Canada behind them, reaching yet another Cup Quarterfinal. A week later, an already-proud and now-feared Eagles team entered the gates of the famed Twickenham Stadium in London unaware they were two days away from making USA Rugby history.

The Eagles swept through their pool on day one of Marriott London Sevens, including a 21-12 win over South Africa. The team’s relentless attack on the rest of the London field continued through day two as the Eagles beat Canada, England, and Australia by a combined 117-44 to claim the first Cup victory in the U.S.’s 16-year history on the circuit.

“I’ve never been so proud of a group of guys in my entire life,” pronounced Test. “The effort, hard work, and stuff that no one sees us doing at the Olympic Training Center showed through in our performance. It blows my mind how far we’ve come as a team, and it makes me excited to see what will happen next.”

The sixth-place finish on the Series was not enough to earn qualification to the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games, but the Eagles will get a second chance to qualify at the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships in Cary, N.C., June 13-14. See both of the U.S.’s sevens teams take on the best of North America and the Caribbean at WakeMed Soccer Park starting at just $15.