USA women’s rugby playing for fifth place
TOKYO — The United States Women’s Rugby Sevens team had its sights on a particularly beneficial Olympic tournament run after sweeping its pool play matches.
Less than a year from USA Rugby emerging from bankruptcy, the program was hoping for a medal run from either of its men’s or women’s teams competing in Tokyo to boost interest and maybe financial backing.
Both teams suffered the same result however– a loss to Great Britain in the quarterfinal round.
The Eagle women dropped out of medal contention with a 21-12 loss to the British in an evening session on Friday at Tokyo Stadium.
The United States fell behind 21-0 early in the second half and did not have enough left in the tank to produce its fourth straight second-half surge in the tournament.
“Absolutely devastating,” co-captain Abby Gustaitis said. “It’s sport, right? It brings you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Unfortunately, we’re on that low end of it today and credit to Great Britain where it’s due. They came out swinging, they didn’t miss a beat and we made a few errors. We just weren’t able to clear way back, not for lack of effort or belief in the girls.”
Kristi Kershe and Naya Tapper both scored tries for the United States in defeat. The Eagle men were eliminated from medal contention after blowing a 21-point lead to the British a few days earlier.
Even with the disappointing loss, members of the U.S. women’s team were able to harness the power of social media to their advantage at the Olympics, most notably the TikTok account of Ilona Maher.
“I think we showed America how incredible of a sport rugby sevens is,” Gustaitis said. “And we were growing the following there and I just hope little girls and boys around the country go pick up a rugby ball now because they’ve seen us women play out there. I know that will fuel a lot of girls to get out there, itching to pull on that red, white and blue and I’m here for it. I can’t wait to see the next generation of USA rugby women.”
In a placement game early on Saturday, the United States defeated China 33-14. The Eagles will have a rematch with Australia for fifth place this morning.
Australia, the reigning gold medalist, also were knocked out of medal contention on Friday with a loss to Fiji.
2003 East Palestine graduate Liz Strohecker is the operations manager for the United States Women’s Rugby Sevens program.