Robert Osmon - author of Black and Blue and Blue and Gold; U.S. Naval Academy alumnus; and retired U.S. Navy Captain - accompanied the USA to the World University Summer Games to chronicle the Navy-based team's participation in the first-ever competition.
Celebrating its 54th year in existence (with roots dating back to 1924), the World University Summer Games (WUSG) continued its evolution as it added rugby 7s to the curriculum this year. The USA willingly participates in the Games, although was only represented in 17 of the 27 sports contested in 2013. So the country was more than happy to hear that the primarily U.S. Naval Academy-based women's team was able to travel to Kazan, Russia in pursuit of Universiade gold.
Navy was an obvious choice, having finished second at the College 7s Championship last fall, but it wasn't just talent that qualified the Midshipmen to represent the USA. After a careful discussion and team vote, the players accepted their invitation to the WUSG and committed their spring to raising the necessary $25,000 to participate, in addition to their own airfare. A hefty responsibility for a top-tier college team (keep in mind, Navy played at DI final four in Stanford during these fundraising efforts), but the women came through. Unfortunately, a men's team wasn't able to replicate the efforts, and the USA was represented in the women's competition only.
Because of some last-minute injuries and several graduates finding it necessary to report to their ships, three players from other schools (7s Eagles Sadie Anderson and Ryan Carlyle, and Lauren Rhode) were invited to fill out the squad of 12 players.
The competition was extremely tough as all the participating countries sent their best college athletes to compete in this elite international atmosphere. Ten of the USA reps were experiencing their first international competition - to contrast, host Russia sent the majority of their Rugby World Cup Sevens squad to Kazan. Thus head coach Sue Parker, former USA 7s Women coach and recently appointed head coach for Harvard women's varsity team, knew this would be a very difficult competition for her team.
“We’ve only worked together as a team for several weeks, but the enthusiasm and dedication is incredible,” Parker said. “The veterans are an asset to us in bringing along those less experienced, but in the end it will take a full team effort to compete at this level.”
In a preliminary interview, co-captain Kacey Lipscomb (Navy) had this to say: We all are so honored to have USA emblazoned across our chests. Representing our country as a team is a thrill that none of us will ever forget. We will win as a team or lose as a team.
Co-Captain Lauren Rhode (Princeton) totally agreed. Having played against Thailand in a tournament in Laos, she was very pleased that women’s 7s had been approved for the World University Games.
“I’m so glad to see collegiate rugby developing at the international level,” she stated. “It’s so important to have Americans competing at this level. I am honored just to be part of this team.”
First game jitters were evident in the opening game against Brazil, and the USA dropped a close 12-7 decision. The second match was undoubtedly the most exciting game of the tournament. Italy was ahead 14-0 when Carlyle (South Carolina) broke away for a long run to Italy's two meter. Rhode then picked up the ball and drove into the end zone. On the ensuing halftime kickoff, Anderson (Penn State) took it 80 meters to bring USA within four, 14-10. This turned the tide of the game with USA threatening the entire second half. With seconds on the board, Anderson pitched out to Siera Snapp (Navy) who turned the corner, opened her afterburners and outran the last two Italian defenders crossing the goal line as the final horn blew. The crowd, which was heavily favoring the US, went wild with cheers.
“We got better throughout the game," Parker said. "I was so pleased with the team’s character in coming back. There is no question we played as a complete team.”
Good things were expected for the second day, but China proved to be an unexpectedly valiant foe. Other than several long runs by Anderson, China fairly well dominated, notching a 24-0 victory. But this team was not about to roll over and die.
Great Britain had been dominating Pool B play with no close games to date. USA set them back on their heels with a quick 50-meter run by Lipscomb scoring her first international try taking the lead 5-0. USA held this until late in the first half when a missed tackle gave Great Britain an easy score. The half ended 7-5, but the Brits knew they were in for a battle. The struggle continued into the second half, but eventually the Brits' experience and speed began to take over and they led 19-5 with moments left. But once again Anderson broke a 50-meter score to bring the final score to 19-10. Then the Brits breathed a sigh of relief knowing they had been in their toughest test by far.
Coach Parker fully agreed: This was clearly our best team effort. Two breakdowns on defense cost us, but they are a phenomenal team.
Close games aside, it wasn't enough to qualify for the quarterfinals, so the USA played for 9th against Japan. The Americans' opponents had a little more on the day, and took the final game 10-5.
But overall the team effort was superb. In spite of having 10 inexperienced international players on the team, they were very competitive in every match save one, including beating the Silver Medal winner Italy. And they certainly won the hearts of the fans in the stands as the home crowd was clearly favoring the USA. All these young women can hold their heads high for the amazing effort they made against far more experienced foes.
The full team roster is as follows:
Sadie Anderson, Penn State
Ryan Carlyle, South Carolina
Nicole Castro, Navy
Tayler Davidson, Navy
Karissa Kleinschmidt, Navy
Phoebe Kotlikoff, Navy
Kacey Lipscomb, Navy
Erika Pederson, Navy
Lauren Rhode, Princeton
Riacca Slater, Navy
Katherine Smith, Navy
Siera Snapp, Navy