In what seems to be this summer’s Tale as Old as Time, MARFU giants NOVA and DC Furies faced off again at the Cape Fear 7s final this past weekend. And once again, the title match didn’t disappoint.
Both sides faced excellent pool play competition, but the Furies finished Saturday undefeated with close wins over Atlanta, NOVA and Southern Exposure. NOVA was less satisfied with their 1-2 performance but rebounded on Sunday with a semifinal win over Atlanta. D.C. knocked out Southern Exposure to set up a déjà vu match for the trophy.
NOVA took the first lead of the game as Megan Hanson’s converted try put the Virginia side up 7-0. Just before the break, D.C.’s Amanda Street took the corner and beat the sweeper to score under posts. Unfortunately for D.C., the conversion missed and that two-point deficit would prove detrimental come game’s end.
7s Eagle Lauren Hoeck extended NOVA’s lead to 12-5 in the second half. There the scoreline stood until a minute remained, when Eli White finished off Jeanna Beard’s linebreak for the try, 12-10. NOVA’s defense did the job, however, and the Piranhas held onto the win.
These tight, pressure-laden matches are great preparation for the MARFU championship and club 7s nationals, but there are a lot of factors that affect successful runs at championship tournaments. Teams must build their depth, diversify their competition, and acclimate players to all of the off-field influences - and that's exactly what NOVA and D.C. have been doing this past month.
“Coach Dana Creager set our goal as a team this weekend to test our fitness level over two days of matches,” NOVA captain Meganne Atkins said. “We treated the entire weekend as preparation for Pittsburgh, from our pre-game nutrition to our post-game recovery.”
Both NOVA and D.C. were on the road the weekend prior, as well: NOVA finished second at Lakefront 7s (Milwaukee); D.C. won Harrisburg 7s.
“In the past we played in mostly local tournaments and then were forced to adjust our play at Nationals,” Atkins said. “Playing in Milwaukee, our goal was to test ourselves against high-level competition so we are better prepared come August.
“When we’re on the road, there’s a bonding that takes place, which helps improve what we do on the field, not just through understanding plays and the game plan, but in more subtle ways as well,” Atkins explained. “The younger girls have a chance to learn from the vets about how best to take care of yourself in preparation for playing.”
NOVA is seeing the benefits of a strategically built schedule and has been fielding two competitive sides all summer. NOVA 2 even competed at club nationals last year.
D.C. is of the same mind. They’re traveling out of their comfort zone, all with an eye toward club 7s nationals.
“It is tough playing NOVA so often, as we are so familiar with them,” D.C.’s Eli White said after the Cape Fear final. “So it was really great to be able to play against some great teams from the South, to be able to test ourselves against different styled teams with different strengths and game plans.”
D.C. has fantastic numbers as well, and the A side has seen a slew of players test their abilities alongside veterans.
“We were missing our captain and our three starters,” D.C. assistant coach Dre Khoury said. ”Our bench stepped up the entire day. [They] showed tremendous discipline.”
“Our depth has really come through for us this season,” White added. “Due to summer conflicts and injuries, we’ve had a different roster for each tournament. Our coach, Toga, refers to our bench as our ‘Super Subs’. Any of our reserves can be a started in any game.”
Two of D.C.’s newest players, Jamie Albarelli and Hunter Griendling, have had an immediate impact on this season. Albarelli was an All-American at George Washington last year before joining the Furies for her second season of 7s. Griendling is the leading scorer thus far this year and will be travelling with White to compete at the USA Touch Rugby National Championship in October.
In all likelihood, the D.C. v NOVA showdown will occur again this summer, but with each meeting, the sides are a little more mature, and a lot more exciting.