One of greatest feats during the Women’s College 7s Championship belonged to someone other than reigning champion and heavy favorite Norwich. The only team to go un-scored upon was California, the top seed out of Pool C.
“I’m really happy with the girls’ performance today,” Cal coach Ellen Owens beamed, “and full credit goes to the girls and [Berkeley All Blues assistant coach] Brandon Sparks, who ran our technical program.”
Cal put forth a much improved 7s squad compared to 2011, and a portion of that uptick in performance is directly related to the Golden Bears’ connection with Women’s Premier League team Berkeley.
“We have some really great rookies who have brought a lot of speed to our squad,” Cal captain Hannah Edwards reflected on the changes from 2011, “and a lot of us played with All Blues during the summer 7s season. Last year [at nationals], our 7s had a 15s bent to it; now, we’re really playing 7s.”
Cal got off to a slow start, beating Boston College 12-0 on tries from Jessica Lewis and Jen Sever, who also slotted a conversion. It was a bit messy and choppy, but Cal managed to keep Boston College pinned in their end, starving the New England side of possession.
“We have a lot of really strong runners, but our support play could have been better,” Edwards said. “We could clean up our hands a bit, too, and make better decisions in the offload.”
The team was able to play more freely against their round-two opponent, Oklahoma, a late addition to the tournament. The 27-0 win saw five different players score tries: Lizette Del Real, Aubrey Huey, Kristara Gipson, Gen Ireland and Kelly Doran.
“Every time we play, we get better,” Edwards said. “We keep clicking, and I’m really proud of how well we played today. That said, we’re still finding our 7s groove and learning our system, regardless of our opponent.”
One blessing that California has enjoyed is their competitive fall season. During that last couple of months, Cal has played high-speed Oregon State and a tough field at the Stanford 7s. The build-up allowed the Golden Bears to enter the final round of pool play against their toughest competition – Texas, also 2-0 – more confidently.
Del Real really stepped up her performance, sacrificing her body and maintaining Cal’s perfect record with sure defense at sweeper. But the consummate leader was found in Sever. A big, strong prop, she was not afraid to run or tease the defense, or slip through a half-gap from a tap penalty, then drag some defenders to the line. She kept her side moving forward, and was rewarded with a 15-0 victory over the local side.
“We’re in a good mental space and have a positive attitude about the whole experience,” Edwards said. “There are always going to be some nerves at nationals, but it just heightens your senses and willingness to play.”
Cal will take on Princeton in the Cup Quarterfinals tomorrow morning.