Women’s Eagles Sevens: Dubai 2015 Preview

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The Women's Eagles Sevens' 2015-16 HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens Series campaign kicks off at Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens Thursday, Dec. 3.

With a new head coach in Dr. Jules McCoy, an updated Residency roster at the United States Olympic Committee's Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., and nine months to go until the Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games, the Eagles are ready to get back on the pitch against the world's best.

What you missed

The Eagles finished the 2014-15 season level with England on 76 points in the Series standings, good for fourth place - an automatic-qualification spot for Rio 2016. Due to the tiebreaker scenario, however, England, or Team GB, joined New Zealand, Canada, and Australia as the first four teams to qualify for the first Olympic Games to include Rugby Sevens.

Nevertheless, the Eagles returned home and swept all comers at the 2015 NACRA Sevens Championships at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., to book their tickets to Brazil. A silver-medal Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games excursion followed, and several pool players continued to play high-level rugby throughout the summer at events like the Club 7s National Championships and Elite City Sevens, as well as in the 15s code with Women's Premier League clubs.

Where the Eagles fly

Coach of the Eagles prior to the announcement of rugby's inclusion at the Olympics and the establishment of the Women's Sevens Series, McCoy stepped away from American Rugby Pro Training Center - which she helped found in 2014 - to lead the Eagles at the OTC.

Focused on learning the intricacies of the group already established in Chula Vista as well as figuring out how to push the Eagles into the top four of the Series, McCoy and the coaching staff held two high performance camps ahead of the Residency update. ARPTC residents Rachel Griendling and Ashley Perry were invited to follow McCoy to California, while All-Americans Richelle Stephens - who played at the NACRA Sevens Championships and Pan Am Games - and Nia Williams made the jump from the age-grades to the senior team.

Flight plan

In the span of a year, Jillion Potter helped the Eagles finish sixth at Women's Rugby World Cup 2014 in France and beat a rare form of cancer while visiting her teammates and friends with the sevens program at Atlanta 7s - the U.S.'s home leg of the Series - and the OTC. If that was not impressive enough, Potter is back to contend for an Olympic roster spot.

Stephens and Williams will make their Series debuts in Dubai, as will 15s-capped Eagle Jane Paar. Combined with the experiences of veterans like Lauren Doyle and Kelly Griffin, who lead the team in tournament caps, this Eagles squad will provide new threats to its opposition.

First up is Ireland, which did not appear in any of the six tournaments during the 2014-15 Series despite core status in 2013-14. The Eagles are undefeated against the Irish with two wins and a draw from three matchups, though they will have to be wary of the unknown.

The Eagles did not have the greatest start in Dubai last season, barely escaping the seventh-place match against Russia with a victory. One of the reasons the U.S. was in the seventh-place match rather than a Cup or Plate Final was because of a loss to Fiji in the Plate Semifinal. The Fijians may not be the same dominant force the men's side happens to be, but the skills and speed were too much for the Eagles, who will be better prepared this weekend.

Canada holds the advantage in the matchup between the American border rivals, and had the last laugh from the podium at Toronto 2015. The northerners finished second on the Series last season and won their first tournament in Amsterdam, and should be a perennial Cup Quarterfinalist from Dubai through their home tournament in Langford.

Watch and cheer

Each of the four legs of the 2015-16 Women's Sevens Series will be streamed live on the World Rugby website. Live match updates will be provided on Twitter by @USARugby, while USARugby.org will post match recaps.

Women's Eagles Sevens | Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens

1. Kathryn Johnson

2. Kristen Thomas

3. Jillion Potter (C)

4. Alev Kelter

5. Jane Paar

6. Nia Williams

7. Lauren Doyle

8. Kate Zackary

9. Kelly Griffin

10. Megan Bonny

11. Richelle Stephens

12. Jessica Javelet

Women's Eagles Sevens | Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens

v. Ireland - Thursday, Dec. 3 - 3:42 a.m. ET

v. Fiji - Thursday, Dec. 3 - 6:38 a.m. ET

v. Canada - Thursday, Dec. 3 - 9:13 a.m. ET