Philadelphia - Reigning DI national champion Army is now the closest thing the country has to a women's collegiate 7s champion, having put away Penn State 14-5 in the USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship title match.
"It's pretty amazing," Army captain Jess Sexauer (seen hoisting the trophy in photo right) said. "Our program is so new that it's crazy to come so far so soon. We're graduating 10 seniors this year, so next year will be a change, but this was our year. It was one of our goals from the beginning of the year. We knew both national championships were doable."
The sevens aspect of the championship duo was a bit of an afterthought, however. The team only had a week to prepare, with players joining practices after training sessions in the field, sleeping in the woods for a week. Sexauer herself only joined the team on Thursday.
"Some of us have never played 7s before, so we just needed to come together, have fun, and play some rugby," Sexauer added.
It was the mentality that many teams took into the first women's CRC, since the tournament boasted six teams that were still recovering from DI nationals. But that doesn't mean the final game wasn't hotly contested. Both teams hit the ground - and each other - running. Throughout the tournament, neither squad had faced as physical an opponent in the breakdown, which meant some skittish ball at times and frequent possession changes in close.
But the teams did well to work the sidelines, as both teams boast excellent speed out wide. Army's Sexauer, Annie Lee and Kayla Orvik took on Penn State's Lisa Henneman, Sadie Anderson and Deven Owsiany.
Spending most of the early minutes in Army's end, the ball works out to Sexauer, who had a two-on-two forming. As Barber drifted out to cover the sideline, Sexauer split the defenders and took off for the fences. With only Bianca Dalal to beat, Sexauer planted a massive stiff-arm on the petite sweeper and sent the crowd into a frenzy. Sexauer dotted the try beneath the post and Marie Timm converted the score, 7-0.
"I heard them during the stiffarm and during the replay on the jumbotron," Sexauer said of the fan's reaction to her stiffarm. "I've never played in a stadium this big with a crowd this size, so it's pretty fun. I heard the crowd go wild when i missed that tackle, too, so it goes both ways."
Penn State remained calm and steadily worked the ball back to Army's tryline, getting help from the referee's whistle to keep possession. After a poor decision to not utilize the overload on the try zone, the subsequent breakdown ball worked out to Lisa Henneman, who turned the corner and for the try, 7-5.
At the half, it was anyone's game. Owsiany played some great defense to contain Lee when she got some space out wide; Orvik was fierce in the contact area and able to change the tide of momentum with a single hit. Army's Sharon Giannessi put in some try-saving tackles as well.
Substitute Scostia Peterson put the game away for Army, who seemed to recognize and work overloads a little better than Penn State. Timm made the conversion, 14-5, with four minutes to go. From there, it was a matter of gritty defense and Army waited it out.
"We came out hard and our defense was strong, but we made a couple of mistakes and in 7s, little mistakes are big mistakes," PSU freshman Lauren Barber said. "We came into the weekend having fun and just enjoying the experience. Our team will have a stronger bond because of it."
To add to the joy of Army's victory, its men's team has advanced to the final against Dartmouth, set to kick off shortly. It's been a great weekend for the academy, and now the Army women have inaugurated the women's CRC 7s record books.