Last weekend, the women’s club 7s championship saw the majority of its seeds decided, with very few surprises. One team that didn’t make the cut, however, was Emerald City. Presumed to take one of the Pacific Coast’s three spots, until ORSU burst onto the scene, the omission from nationals might be in the team's best interest.
First and foremost, the Mudhens are still developing as a 7s team; but also, the Pacific Northwest squad will be missing their most influential player, Eagle co-captain Ashley Kmiecik, for nationals.
“We need more competition in the northwest,” Kmiecik said after the 3rd place loss to ORSU in the Pac Coast championship. “The fact that we have four teams here is difficult. We’re going up to Canada to get most of our matches – playing against Burnaby, playing against some of the other better teams up there – but it’s frustrating that we don’t get to see Berkeley very often.
“But we’re not frustrating,” Kmiecik qualified her concern. “We have a very solid, very quick team. And we’re still rebuilding.”
Led by 7s Eagle Irene Gardner and the poise of veteran Ruth Bryson, Berkeley ended the Pac Coast championship with a 29-5 victory over Seattle in the final, but even the All Blues showed some vulnerability on the day. The northern California team dropped an early-day match 17-12 to the Breakers before the convincing win at day’s end.
One trait that seemed to unite the field was a reluctance to attack around the corner, and Kmiecik conceded it was a tactic that her side, too, didn’t realize. In the end, with Berkeley being somewhat of an exception, there was more contact around the field than desirable.
“It’s trusting your speed and being confident that you can take somebody,” Kmiecik addressed the key elements of attacking wide. “I think a lot of women are not used to using a fend, and using that fend and going around the corner is the most practical way to play 7s – test them before you go back inside.
“It’s also fitness,” the Eagle wing added. “Knowing that you can make the cut in, go back out and take that corner around. I think people are also fearful that they’re going to have to make an 80-meter run, and they’re unsure if their support is going to be there. If it’s in the 13th minute of the game and you can take [the corner], but mentally you don’t think you can do it – even if you are going to have support – you’re not going to do it.”
Wise words from someone who’s played at the highest level of the game. The 15s Eagle will be in Greeley, Colo., for the Nations Cup, which partially coincides with the club 7s championship. Kmiecik, along with USA teammates like Kate Daley (Chicago Lions), Phoebe Boone (Berkeley), Carmen Farmer (Scion) and Erica Cavanaugh (NOVA), to name a few, will all miss their 7s teams’ culminating performance this summer. For the smart 7s teams, they’ve been preparing for the absence of their best players, building depth over the summer. It’s a process that the USA is currently entrenched, having cycled in younger players (most notably backs) for the three France tests in early June. Kmiecik played outside those young backs and will now have to adjust to another new set of players at the Nations Cup.
“I feel like I just got back,” Kmiecik looked ahead to the upcoming assembly. “We have a whole new squad, speaking of 7s players. There are six coming back from the [7s] world cup who are going to be joining us. Some are going to be taking a back seat. I think this is a chance for [USA Women coach] Pete [Steinberg] to find out what he can do with them, and if it’s going to work. Unfortunately we don’t get many matches in the 15s program domestically, so we have this opportunity to use the strengths that we have in the 7s program. So we’re going to try that out.”
Steinberg has reiterated that he must be very careful how he integrates the 7s players into the program. The introduction of professional athletes onto the field should have a positive impact on results, but there are team dynamics to consider as well.
“I’ve been playing [at the national level] for a little over seven years now, and the culture we’ve built on this team is the strongest I’ve ever seen,” Kmiecik said. “We’ve taken 30 adult women, and we trust each other on and off the field. That’s not easy to do, especially when you only have three weeks together at a time. … I don’t know what’s going to happen at the Nations Cup, but I have faith in what Pete’s bringing to the table.
“What else can we do,” Kmiecik asked after a pause. “The culture could be disrupted a little bit because they’re [the 7s players] not used to us, but we’ll see. Shaina Turley and I, our job is to keep the team together and keep that culture.”
With the injection of these 7s athletes, there’s possibility for a more potent offense in the backs, and that potential is fresh on Kmiecik’s mind.
“How did I feel,” Kmiecik considered the offense produced against France, “Get the ball out! Yes, it was very slow getting out. We were running our pattern one phase too much. We should have ran our solid pattern, got our momentum going forward, and then shipped the ball to speed. Speed and strength, with our outside center and wing – especially with Meya Bizer at fullback – that’s where we could have beat them. And we showed them, anytime we got the ball out there. Frustrating, but at least it’s one of those things that we can fix. We have homework to watch that televised game [against France] again and to come back to the table at Nations Cup and [suggest] how we can adjust the pattern, and see what we can do. The game plan is solid – and when we run it, as you saw against France, it beats teams like that.”
Some things to watch for as the Eagles face South Africa (July 30), Canada (August 3) and England (August 7) during the Nations Cup.