The Women Club 7s National Championship occurs this weekend in Pittsburgh. Below is a preview of Pool A:
Pool A: Boston Belles (Northeast #1), ORSU (Pacific Coast #3), Philadelphia (Mid-Atlantic #4), San Diego (Southern California #1)
San Diego is the favorite for Pool A, and not just because they’re the reigning champion. The Surfers have built a solid 7s program that continues to groom players for the nearby Olympic Training Center. San Diego alumni Emilie Bydwell, Ryan Carlyle and last year’s championship breakout, Hannah Lopez, are now full-timers in Chula Vista, while Val Griffeth, Katie Lorenz and Amy Naber have cycled through USA 7s coach Ric Suggitt’s team. Surfers coach Richie Walker also works closely with the USA 7s program, adding to the boon of 7s experience pervading San Diego.
But it’s the Surfers’ depth that will see them through to the later rounds. Being in Southern California, which ultimately forfeited its second seed to nationals, quality opposition is limited. So San Diego must not only travel to test themselves but also rely on internal competition to drive improvement.
The Surfers enjoyed some well deserved recompense during the SoCal qualifier in Santa Barbara, dominating the Berkeley All Blues – which had won the teams’ first summer 7s meeting in overtime – 34-7. The overwhelming victory hinted at the progress that San Diego has cultured, and there’s no doubt the Surfers will be one of the toughest teams in Pittsburgh.
San Diego’s best game will likely come against the Boston Belles, which has experienced an interesting summer. While there was no bad blood, the 7s-only club saw some personnel exit when Beantown – a major feeder to the Belles – decided to field a competitive 7s team this summer. The fracture proved beneficial, as the two Boston sides became each other’s best competition, while regional participation in the Northeast qualifiers flagged.
Despite the hurdles, a familiar core of players has driven the Belles’ NRU championship season, and former USA 15s and 7s Eagle – now coach – Amy Daniels has been at the helm.
“Our goal is very simple: Play our game,” Belles star Alyssa Green said. “We want to stick to our defensive and offensive systems, which allow us to express ourselves as a team. We laid our foundation early in the summer and have been building upon it with technique, chemistry and trust. The Belles have said that our best games will be at nationals and have been working to make that happen.”
Everyone on the Belles can score – with speedsters like Green, Ashley Clancy, Danielle Miano and captain Katie O’Malley claiming the best breakaway speed, while Jess Peterson, Emily Malkin and Jackie Cairns are players to avoid in contact.
It’s a toss-up between Philadelphia and ORSU, but we’re expecting them to compete in the Bowl competition on day two. Philadelphia surprised at the Mid-Atlantic championship, defeating NOVA II en route to a fourth-place finish, an achievement that also reflects the excellent competition in the region. After securing the berth to nationals, last year’s Shield winner traveled up to New York to win the Hell Gate 7s, a title that gave the players the last bit of confidence needed heading into the big show.
“Overall we are very excited to compete with the best and believe we deserve to be there with them,” Philadelphia coach Bob Weir said. “PWRFC has made a huge commitment to our 7s program and players over the past two years, and look forward to achieving in Pittsburgh.”
The heart and soul of Philadelphia revolves around Kate Hallinan. She’s at the center of the team’s success, and if she’s on, then her team’s apt to follow.
The heart and soul of ORSU are San Juanita Moreno and Molly Luft. The two brought the Oregon side’s 7s season into being and lured USA Touch’s Charles Sanderson to coach. Getting the team to commit to competitive 7s has been a work in progress, one that received a boost after their 3rd place finish at the Pacific Coast championship (taking the seed from the Emerald City Mudhens).
“To be honest, a huge part of our identity is to focus on being who we are,” Sanderson said of the process. “We only have the ability to control being true and trusting ourselves, our teammates and our structures. … We always focus on our process as opposed to results, so we go into the tournament excited, loose and grateful for the opportunity to continue our growth and development.”
ORSU is missing some well known, influential players like Eagles Sharon Blaney and Beckett Royce; however, Anna Symonds is making the east coast trip, and that’s huge.
Philadelphia and ORSU meet each other in the last pool play round of day one. We’re tempted to favor the side that has played more 7s this summer and banked more time on the ground, but we’re leaning toward ORSU, which has a couple of legitimate game-changers on the field. If Moreno and Symonds can stay healthy by day’s end, we think ORSU will finish third in Pool A.
On day two, Pools A and D will face each other. Our predictions for that half of playoffs:
San Diego (A #1) v Chicago Lions (D #2)
Boston Belles (A #2) v Berkeley (D #1)
ORSU (A #3) v Scion (D #4)
Philadelphia (A #4) v Combined Services (D #3)