Women’s Eagles Sevens: 2018 Kitakyushu Sevens Preview

Women’s Sevens return after longest break of Series with four fresh faces

LAFAYETTE, CO. - Following the longest break of the 2017-18 HSBC Women's World Sevens Series, the Women's Eagles Sevens return for Kitakyushu Sevens April 20-22 (based on Eastern time). After months of preparation, Head Coach Richie Walker and his named 12 will take-off for Japan one week ahead of competition.

THIS SERIES LAST STOP

Following an impressive 2nd place finish at Dubai Sevens, the first stop of the season, the Women's Sevens faced a hard battle in Sydney to finish with 6 points towards their overall series standing of 5th. After falling to England (24-28), beating Japan (38-0) and conceding to New Zealand (0-31) in pool play, the United States went into the Cup Quarter Finals feeling the intensity of competition.

As tournament matchups grew more challenging, losses to Russia (14-19), Spain (19-24) and Ireland (10-19) forced the Eagles to close out the second stop of the series in 8th place.

Though they had hoped for better results, the competition proved to be a valuable learning experience for the squad. Over the almost 3-month break between stops, the United States has identified areas for improvement, evaluated their upcoming contests and challenged themselves to find fresh strategies to their attack.

WHO TO WATCH

Leading the charge in points scored are Alev Kelter (63) and Naya Tapper (55) who collectively own 118 points this season, ranked as the 1st and 2nd highest scorers on the team (respectively) through two tournament stops. 

Along with Kelter and Tapper, Hope Rogers is beginning to make waves, herself. Having only traveled to Sydney this season, Rogers owns a wealth of rugby experience in both fifteens and sevens, dotting down 3 times alone last stop. And, speaking of experience, Head Coach Richie Walker adds another crossover star to the roster this weekend. 2017 Women's World Cup and sevens series standouts Kristen Thomas an Kate Zackary join the action for their first HSBC tournaments this season. 

Adding to fresh faces, 2016 Rio Olympian Kelly Griffin also jumps back on the circuit with newcomer Neariah Persinger making her Sevens series debut after leaving an impression on Eagle coaches during the Falcons' 2018 Okinawa Sevens Invitational.  

HEAR IT FROM HEAD COACH RICHIE WALKER

On the gap between Series stops...
"With the long break between the Australia stop and the Japan stop we were very lucky that we got to play Australia in a 4 match series in Las Vegas. We also got to play Canada and Japan at the training center which was very helpful for us."

On the competition in pool play...
"We have a very tough pool and we need to be at our best to qualify for the Cup quarters. New Zealand is one of the best teams in the world that very rarely makes mistakes so we have to make even less. They will also be coming from the Commonwealth Games which I think will benefit those sides. France is one of the top nations and proved very hard for us to beat as they are fast and physical and we have to match that. Japan is the host nation and -- no matter who it is -- host nations generally step up, so we have our work cut out for us."

On the team energy...
"There is a great buzz in our group knowing that we only have a few tournaments left before the World Cup in San Francisco. The energy is starting to lift a little more and the girls are really excited and working hard."

THE COMPETITION

Competing in Pool B, the Women's Sevens will kick off Kitakyushu Sevens on Fri, Apr. 20 against 6th place France, who currently sits just two points behind the Eagles in the overall standings. A tough contest against Sydney Sevens silver winner and overall 2nd place New Zealand will be next; followed by 12th place home team Japan to close out pool play.

WOMEN'S SEVENS ROSTER | 2018 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens

Sarah Buonopane
Ryan Carlyle
Cheta Emba
Jordan Gray
Kelly Griffin
Nicole Heavirland (C)
Alev Kelter
Neariah Persinger
Hope Rogers
Naya Tapper
Kristen Thomas
Kate Zackary 

WOMEN'S SEVENS STAFF | 2018 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens

Head Coach - Richie Walker
Athletic Trainer - Sarah Leslie
Head of Physical Preparation - Jon Hood
Analyst - Dave Gardner
Team Manager - Liz Strohecker

WOMEN'S SEVENS SCHEDULE | 2018 HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens

LIVE on The Rugby Channel
vs. France | Fri, Apr. 20 - 10:58 PM ET
vs. New Zealand | Sat, Apr. 21 - 2:04 AM ET
vs. Japan | Sat, Apr. 21 - 4:26 AM ET

WHERE WE STAND

HSBC World Series Standing | 5th
HSBC World Series Points | 24
Most Points Scored by a Player | Alev Kelter - 5th (63 points)
Most Tries Scored by a Player | Naya Tapper - 5th (11 tries)
Most Conversions by a Player | Alev Kelter - 4th (14)
All Time Points Scored by a Team | USA - 4th (2,868)

TO SUM IT UP

Despite a tough finish in Sydney, the Women's Sevens still sit in 5th place overall and - at one spot above last year's record finish - have the opportunity to again make history  ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018. While France, New Zealand and Japan will present a challenging start to competition, the Eagles have spent the past several months preparing for Kitakyushu and will hit the ground running when they arrive later this week.

Kitakyushu Sevens will run Apr. 20-22 (based on Eastern time) broadcast LIVE on The Rugby Channel. Updates will be available by following @USARugby on Twitter.

Following Kitakyushu Sevens, the team will travel to Langford (May) and Paris (June) to close out the 2017-18 World Series, with all eyes on the World Cup Sevens this July.