Pool D is unique and therefore the most difficult to predict. On one end of the spectrum is Berkeley, one of the most successful women’s clubs in the country; on the other, three newish area-based teams look to experience their first-ever Women Club 7s National Championship, taking place this weekend in Pittsburgh.
Pool D: Berkeley (Pacific Coast #1), Chicago Lions (Midwest #1), Combined Services (Military #1), Scion (Mid-Atlantic #3)
Whenever Berkeley’s name appears in a competition, the knee-jerk reaction is to pick the All Blues for the win. A long history of success affords them as much. However, the northern California team has had a tumultuous build-up this summer, as many players have cycled in and out of the roster due to national team duties.
Irene Gardner spent the early season with the USA 7s Eagles and competed at the Rugby World Cup Sevens; the absent Jossy Tseng, Katy Augustyn and Phoebe Boone are all at the Nations Cup in Greeley, Colo.; and Collegiate All Americans Jess Sever and Erin Overcash (who was also capped during the June tests against France) traveled to out-of-state assemblies.
You can’t really complain when your program is outputting national team-worthy athletes, but it does impact the short-term and cohesiveness of the team. When the squad assembles in Pittsburgh, it will be the first time the full elite squad plays together.
With all that said, Berkeley coach Laura Cabrera isn’t overly concerned that her team won’t perform. The All Blues had a promising tournament in Seattle when they won the Pacific Coast 7s championship, and they’re led by some impressive veterans. Gardner tops the list and is closely followed by Ruth Bryson, Lucy Croy and Sarah Davis. In additional to Sever and Overcash, Genevieve Ireland is an apt representation of the promising young talent flocking to Berkeley.
And just to keep it interesting, the East Coast is throwing one more hurdle at the perennial contender.
“Our immediate goals going in are to get settled into the time zone and the weather,” Cabrera said. “This is the first time nationals has not been in our own back yard … [but] once we settle into the day, the weather, and the level of competition, I’m sure their instincts will take over.”
Those instincts will see them through to the Cup semifinals, although the true question is who will finish second in the pool. We’re leaning toward the Chicago Lions due to consistency. The new 7s-only team is playing in its first season, which began slowly. But then the Lions kicked it into gear to win the Midwest. Kate Daley was a main driving force, but she’s in Colorado with the 15s Eagles right now. She left the team in good hands, though, with familiar names like Christiane Pheil and Bridget Biedenbender getting the team in shape alongside the men’s team.
“After playing together for the past three months, we’ve really come together and have grown to know and trust each other,” Biedenbender said. “Having come from different teams in the area, it took a little more time to click, but we’ve got it.”
Scion is a combination of both Berkeley and the Chicago Lions. The team pools a variety of athletes from Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, and the top lineup includes several Eagles.
But when players like Carmen Farmer, Farrah Douglas (both at Nations Cup) and Devon Keller are absent, the experience level drops. The team has also been hit by injuries and will only bring 10 players to the local tournament. That, more than anything, will impinge Scion’s success.
“We have smart players that have good rugby instincts, so we will continue to do our best and look forward to having some fun and seeing competition from regions outside MARFU," Scion co-founder Joanne Lui said.
Look out for former Eagle Ida Bernstein, who continues to light up the open field, as well as Collegiate All American and Eagle pool scrumhalf Elena Cantorna. And remember Maggie Leonard? She was the Penn State wing who terrorized Brown and Stanford in the 2012 DI College championship. She left PSU in continuing her education, but hasn't left rugby.
The big unknown is the Combined Services. After failing to enter a team in last year’s nationals, the program got their act together earlier this year and competed in the Las Vegas Invitational’s elite division. There, they played against national teams and struggled, but it was great experience for returners like Rose Bernheim and Megan Lewis-Taylor.
But it’s a virtually new team that’s assembling for Pittsburgh, and you’ll recognize Army standouts Jess Sexauer and Elizabeth McCracken booting up for the all-star side. Norwich’s Austin Hall is leading the group, which is currently familiarizing themselves with each other at a two-day camp. Hopefully that will be enough, but Hall indicated that victories isn’t the lone goal at hand.
“Our focus is giving servicewomen the opportunity to play the game they love and bringing exposure to the USCS program and players,” Hall said. “We believe we have phenomenal rugby talent in our services and they need the opportunity to play.”
Here’s how we see the quarterfinals shaping up for this group:
Berkeley (D #1) v (A #2)
Chicago Lions (D #2) v (A #1)
Scion (D #3) v Philadelphia (A #4)
Combined Services (D #4) v ORSU (A #3)
Pool A Preview
Pool B Preview
Pool C Preview
See video of Berkeley's win over Seattle in the Pacific Coast Championships.