Sometimes there’s hesitation to adore the high try-scorer, to lavish congratulations on that player who finishes the hard work that preceded the score. That player often enjoys enough glory, spending ample time in open space for the best photos, and is an easy target toward the media flock for post-game interviews.
But in 7s, no one is one-dimensional. Sprinters have to tackle, props have to send long spin passes, everyone has to play open-field defense. Everyone has to be able to everyone’s job, and in 2013, no one did that better than Victoria Folayan, RUGBYMag’s Women’s 7s Player of the Year.
Despite being one of the most potent wings on the national 15s team and a regular on the 7s team, Folayan was not included in the first batch of Olympic Training Center residents. She got the call nearly a year later, at the end of 2012, when her fitness met USA 7s coach Ric Suggitt’s standards and a handful of half-year contracts were available. The Berkeley alumnus wasted no time in making her (guaranteed) six months at the OTC count, and she reiterated her position as a game-changer.
Folayan is one of the fastest players on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series circuit, and she finished the 2012-13 season fifth on the list of top try scorers (15). Yes, she’s tough to catch on the straight-away, but she uses her speed so well around the field. If she takes a fend, then she’s quickly closing the distance for the follow-up tackle. When she takes the corner or breaks weakside around a ruck, there is a mutual confidence that she won’t be pushed into touch. And that’s because she’s strong, too. If stopped on a breakaway, she’ll grapple with her tackler and keep her feet until support arrives. Might sound simple, but consider the intensity of both players when wrestling within 10 meters of a try line.
But while there’s comfort in knowing that it takes a team to down Folayan, there’s a nerve-wrecking unpredictability to her play. One might gasp as she shoots up on defense, but more often than not, the gamble pays off and Folayan makes the crunching tackle that knocks the ball loose in the opposition’s end. One might question why she’s trying to tap dance through a brick wall, and then she changes direction, sidesteps and slips out of the tackle.
Folayan is the hinge of excitement that turns good 7s teams into great ones – and that’s where the USA was oscillating as it neared the Rugby World Cup Sevens. During the run-up to Moscow, the Eagles were beating everyone they should have, including a couple of special victories against the Australians, but were falling short against Canada, England and New Zealand. The Americans didn’t veer from that course at the world cup, finished 5-1, with the lone loss coming at the hands of eventual champion New Zealand, 19-10.
The USA was close, but the team lacked a distinguishing factor: killer speed. The OTC roster changed over and even more dramatically at the end of the year. Folayan has the pace the USA needs, but more importantly, she is the example of how cultivated speed can elevate the Eagles’ game.