Berkeley was certainly one of the favorites heading into the Women Club 7s Championship, but not overwhelming so, as their legacy for success sometimes allows. The All Blues showed some vulnerability during their 22-19 pool play win over the Chicago Lions, so there wasn't a feeling of pure domination when Berkeley entered the Cup final against NOVA.
That said, the game against the Lions was the only truly close one that Berkeley contested, especially when contrasted with NOVA’s route to the final. The widest margin of victory that NOVA enjoyed was a 15-0 win over Detroit, and day two began with a 10-5 win over the Youngbloodz, followed by a 10-5 overtime victory against San Diego.
That fatigue didn’t show itself early on, as Berkeley knocked on the opening kickoff and NOVA was quickly in striking distance of the All Blues’ tryline. Some nice go-forward from Lauren Hoeck, who sent a nifty, tight pass to captain Meganne Atkins kept Berkeley scrambling long enough to open some space for Sharlyn Carter. The ball spun wide out of contact and found the wing at full pace. She scored in the corner before the clock had reached a minute, 5-0 NOVA.
NOVA knew they had to stay at full throttle, and even as some 50/50 passing mixed in with play, the Virginia side was able to reset and prevent any turnovers. A steady offensive – with some pretty back-and-forth passing between Megan Hanson and Lily White along the sideline – saw Hanson on a dead sprint for the line. She cut back inside to avoid one tackler, a move that bought an extra second for Berkeley’s cover to smother the forward at the tryline. Jenn Sever then cleared the threat entirely, with a nice long break into NOVA’s end.
NOVA let another sure try slip through their hands – literally – shortly afterward, as Carter broke free and only had Irene Gardner at sweeper to beat. No one gets by Gardner, but Carter controlled the contact point and offloaded to Beth Black in tight support but who knocked on.
Berkeley had seen enough. From the subsequent scrum, Gardner found a gap and put a nice change of pace past Hanson at sweeper. She darted in under the posts, and Ruth Bryson easily converted for the 7-5 lead.
The All Blues spent a little more time building their next score, but they did it all in NOVA’s end. Erin Overcash put a big hit on the fast-breaking Kathryn Hemlock and forced a knock-on. From the scrum, Berkeley pushed play from sideline to sideline, and once in scoring position, Bryson looped an overhead pass to Overcash, who froze defenders as she zig-zagged her way toward the posts, 12-5 into the half.
Momentum, it’s all about creating it and keeping it. As the second half kicked off, NOVA still looked in good spirits. Black got a nice break up the sideline, and when she was pinned, she spun it back to a fully formed line waiting for a run. But then the mistakes started to compound – whether it was an errant pass into touch or one of several not-releasing or in-from-the-side penalties – and NOVA could barely hold onto the ball for more than a phase or two.
As Sever and Gardner made some good yards in tight, Berkeley forced a tiring NOVA defense to tighten up, and at the perfect moment, spun the ball to the unguarded Jill Whitfield on the wing. She beat White to the corner, just barely, 17-5.
That try was the death knell, and NOVA could not take advantage of any opportunity given them – an overthrown Berkeley lineout was knocked on in the would-be steal; another lineout in scoring position skipped over the jumper’s fingers; a quick-tap penalty turned into an unsupported breakaway that yielded a not-releasing penalty.
Berkeley added their final try in minute 16, when Hoeck was penalized inside NOVA’s 10 meter and Sever quick-tapped through. She dragged a few defenders en route to the grounding, 22-5. The All Blues spent the rest of the game kicking to touch, trying to waste the clock, while NOVA put one final line together that showcased the team at their best – long strides, crisp passes at pace, all leading their subsequent teammate into space – before accepting their fate.
Our choice for MVP was pretty easy: Irene Gardner. Berkeley allowed only 29 points over six games – that averages to less than a try per game – and that’s due in large part to the security that Gardner provides at sweeper. She’s the surest tackler on the field, all 5’4” of her, and having that type of player at one’s back is priceless. With ball in hand, she’s as smart as they come – expected from someone who played at the Rugby World Cup Sevens – and she continually set up her teammates for success.
In other news, last year's champion, San Diego, finished third after defeating Atlanta 17-7; the Youngbloodz won the Plate with a 17-12 overtime win over D.C.; the Boston Belles beat up Philly 34-0 for the Bowl; and Detroit won the Shield 14-5 over NOVA II.
Tries: Sever, Gardner, Overcash, Whitfield
Who led the entire field on points scored? See here. Also check out galleries from day one (part 1 and part 2) and the knockouts.