As expected, Berkeley, Seattle and Emerald City are heading to Women’s National Club 7s Championship as the Pacific Coast representatives. But the story of last weekend’s territorial championship was not the All Blues; it was Seattle.
The Breakers won the top seed with a 24-14 win over the reigning club champions, while the Mudhens beat out Sacramento 36-14 for third. The knee-jerk assumption was that Berkeley focused on working its depth, but in reality, the usual suspects – Phoebe Boone, Irene Gardner, Lucy Croy, Sarah Davis – were present to showcase Berkeley’s brand of rugby.
“We had the majority of our roster at this weekend’s qualifier. We were only missing a few,” Berkeley 7s coach Laura Cabrera said. “I'm not making any excuses. Seattle played very well. They deserved the win. We need to take this experience back to practice and clean up our mistakes. I'm confident our girls will be ready to compete at Nationals.”
Seattle’s day started with a 34-7 victory over the Sacramento Amazons followed by a 48-0 win over the San Jose Seahawks.
“As we grew into the tournament, our play improved match after match,” Seattle coach Evan Haigh said. “After our first game, we talked about a few improvements on defense and protecting the ball better on offense, and took those thoughts into our match against the Seahawks. This gave us a huge boost going into the semifinal against a very strong and fit Mudhens team.”
Seattle was dedicated to shutting down Emerald City’s outside play, and Jesenia Torres and Carrie White were defensively superb in that role. On attack, flyhalf Megan Sanders put the “break” in “Breakers” and pierced the line repeatedly. Seattle won 24-10.
Meanwhile, Berkeley built on their two pool play wins (24-0 v East Palo Alto, 24-14 v Mudhens) and toppled Sacramento 49-5 in the semifinals.
“We were pleased to take the victory against the Mudhens and gain qualification to nationals,” Haigh said after the semifinal win. “We still knew that we needed to improve on tactical areas going into the final against last year’s champion.”
As Seattle prepared for the final, the team knew it had to take its game to Berkeley, attacking them physically and controlling the set piece, especially during kickoffs and the scrum. If the Breakers could control possession, be patient, and not force passes or turnover ball in the ruck, then an upset victory was very possible.
And that’s exactly what Seattle did. Led by try-scorer Parisa Asgharzadeh, the forwards kept it in tight and were rewarded with two first-half tries. Torres’ presence on defense was excellent, covering Berkeley’s renowned speed easily. She retained the ball well on the outside edge, and allowed burners like White – who kicked off the second half with an 80-meter try – and Sanders to operate in a lot of space. Executing their game plan efficiently, Seattle walked off with a 24-14 win.
“Ultimately, we were able to beat Berkeley with some brilliant outside defense, power and ball control in the contact area,” Haigh said. “To beat Berkeley for the first time in a very long time was a huge step forward for our club and, more importantly, our developing 7s program. Berkeley are the measuring stick of women’s rugby.”
Had an MVP been named, then Haigh would’ve voted for White, whose breakaway speed, classy finishing and brilliant cover defense highlighted the day.
“We are thoroughly looking forward to nationals,” Haigh said. “We have another few weeks to work on our fitness and pattern of play. We still have a number of areas to improve and will hopefully have our roster bolstered by the return of a couple of players.”
As for the third place match, Emerald City rallied after a slow start to the day to beat Sacramento for the last seed to nationals. The team arrived in California at 2 a.m., and the team struggled to commit to their gameplan.
“Our performance was less than optimal,” Emerald City coach Phil Killham said. “We were our own worst enemy on the day, not executing our gameplan, forcing the issue instead of letting the ball do the work. We committed far too many unforced errors, which continually bailed out the opposition defense. All of the hard work was nearly for naught as we struggled to play to our potential. It wasn’t until the final do-or-die match against Sacramento that we started firing on most of our cylinders. Our communication was poor and maybe that was due to fatigue or travel but certainly something that needs to be remedied if we want to perform well at Nationals. With communication being poor, we struggled on mulit-phase defense, something that we have done well in the past.”
But Kham buoyed his squad’s spirits with the fact that they are indeed heading to nationals.
“Not only did we qualify, but the two squads that qualified ahead of us are beatable,” Killham said. “Our goal for Nationals isn’t just to show up, but to win. We have high expectations and work hard to perform at a high level. When we don’t play to our standards, we are fair but critical of our own performance. I really appreciate the effort our squad puts in to play sevens at a higher level.”