Arguably the toughest pool in the Women’s Club 7s Championship, NOVA emerged atop a group that included 2012 finalist Seattle, rival Atlanta and the physical Detroit. No other team had so difficult a road to 3-0, and the trek to the elusive title doesn’t get any easier with tomorrow’s Cup quarterfinal against the Youngbloodz.
“It’s nice to come away with three wins, even though they were close, especially in that kind of pool,” NOVA captain Meganne Atkins said. “Seattle played really well, and Atlanta is going to be tough in the Cup rounds. When we were heading into the Detroit game, we talked about how they were going to be a different team – we played them at Lakefront 7s – and how everyone’s gotten better over the last month. They showed us quite a bit, and it says a lot about the caliber of the Midwest.”
Atkins felt the field overall had improved since last year, when a distinct drop-off between tiers of teams was greatly felt. This year, Atkins still sees some drop-off but the gap is closing. NOVA certainly didn’t have a warm-up game against a lesser opponent today, facing Atlanta in round one. The players didn’t need it, however, as Megan Hanson’s two tries, one of which was converted by Beth Black, gave NOVA a 12-0 after six minutes. Not to be outdone, the Harlequins responded by sending Jess Wooden and Patty Jervey over the line in the second half, but the conversions fell short and NOVA held onto the 12-10 win.
“From a rugby standpoint, Atlanta was the toughest match of the day,” Atkins said. “We saw them at Cape Fear, and although they had a couple of new players, we knew to expect some hard rugby. When you’re on the field for 14 minutes, you really have to push yourself, making tackle after tackle, and they have really hard, strong runners.
“But Seattle was the toughest mentally,” Atkins switched gears. “It was the last game of the day, and we knew we couldn’t lose, or [advancement] would come down to [standings] points. It’s scary when it’s out of your hands. … So we said our playoffs start today with the Seattle game.”
Atkins was referring to the fact that if NOVA lost their game to Seattle, then three teams would finish 2-1 and point differential would determine which two teams moved onto the Cup quarterfinals. NOVA didn’t want to play that game, so they defeated the Breakers 12-5.
Unfortunately for Atkins, the captain couldn’t participate in the final game, spraining her ankle on the opening kickoff. But Mary Anderson sprinted onto the field and finished out the 14 minutes with gusto. She’s one of a few newer additions to NOVA, joined by Meredith Nelson and Sharlyn Carter, who all fit well into the NOVA’s style of play.
“We’ve really spent time building our depth,” Atkins said. “We’ve made sure that we have a good game plan in place and that it consists of everyone on the team. Everyone does what they’re asked to do for however many minutes they’re in the game. Some teams have a tendency to rely on star players, but a good club team is about having 10, 11, 12 players who are all worthy of starting.”
Speaking of depth, NOVA not only has its second side competing at nationals, but the team has also sent four players to Scion and one to the Combined Services, meaning nearly 30 NOVA players are competing at the championships this weekend.
With all of those players to track, one might suspect that it’s difficult to stand out; not in Atkins’ opinion:
“The box scores show that she scored three tries,” Atkins said of her choice for MVP, Megan Hanson, “but it doesn’t show what a great job she did leading us on defense and offense today.”
NOVA’s in good spirits, but having fallen short in the last couple of championships, Atkins and team are taking every victory in stride.
“Tomorrow we’re focusing on one game at a time,” she said. “We have a tendency to look past the first game – when we win that, what does the rest of our bracket look like? It’s better not to look past it.”
But we can look past it. Should NOVA defeat the Youngbloodz in the Cup quarterfinals, then they’ll face the winner of San Diego vs. Chicago Lions.
To see the rest of the bracket, visit here. To see how all the teams got where, look at today’s results and standings.