Richie Walker’s team was five points away from a chance at reaching the podium at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, falling to No. 2-ranked New Zealand Saturday in the Quarterfinals after already having kept No. 1-ranked Australia from a win in that day’s Pool A match. A redemptive defeat of Fiji Monday meant the U.S. would finish as low as sixth, and the win against France confirmed the fifth-place ranking.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Victoria Folayan, who started all six matches at Rio 2016, said following the final match of the tournament. “We’ve seen some ups and down but we stuck together. It was a hard-fought battle to get here and I just want us all to sit back and reflect, and remember this moment forever.
“This team is special.”
The head coach said the young women representing their country on the Olympic stage were in good spirits ahead of their sixth match in three days, blaring music in the locker room as a warm-up to the end of a seven-year road to Rio de Janeiro. After overcoming Fiji, which handed the U.S. its first loss, the team was not prepared to lose its last game.
“I didn’t say a word to the women before the game,” Walker said. “They knew what they had to do. We wanted to end this experience with a win and we did that.”
Walker had used the same starting seven in each match prior to Monday’s fifth-place Final, but made one change with Ryan Carlyle replacing Lauren Doyle. Carlyle was just one American patrolling the French attack in the first half, bringing down the opposition efficiently to avoid conceding tries. She also used her boot effectively for Jillion Potter to chase in the fourth minute before France regained possession.
Folayan was able to take on a couple defenders in the early minutes with ball in hand, but the U.S. could not reach the try line in the first frame. A tackle from Carlyle in the sixth minute preceded another penalty call against the Americans, and Camille Grassineau finally got the better of Carlyle on the try line to open the scoring ahead of the half-time whistle.
Walker had used one substitution in the first half in Jessica Javelet, who had scored three tries before kickoff. After Alev Kelter scored her team-leading fifth try from the second-half restart, Javelet received a pass from Potter on the wing in the 10th minute to beat two defenders to the try zone for a 12-5 U.S. lead.
Carmen Farmer got her first touch of the ball in the 11th minute to win the restart for her team, and Joanne Fa’avesi dummied the defense and fended one French player to reach the try line untouched. Team USA kept France from doing much of anything in the time remaining to see out the 19-5 victory and fifth-place standing on the world stage.
“This group has seen some ups and down, but they have stuck together and are truly remarkable,” Walker said. “To be honest, they needed this win. They deserved this win, and they’ve fought so hard and deserve every success.
“Some of them will go on to play together; for some this is the last time they will get the chance to play on this team. I hope they cherish this for the rest of their lives.”
Rugby Sevens’ first foray into the Olympic Games ends with Canada taking the bronze medal and Australia and New Zealand finishing with gold and silver, respectively. The three nations have also ended the past three World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series seasons at the top of the standings.
Kelter, who scored the United States’ first try at the Olympic Games in the team’s first match against Fiji, scored five tries and kicked four conversions for a total of 33 points in Rio. Javelet dotted down four times for 20 points, and Bui Baravilala converted four tries, as well, for eight points.
Team USA Rugby Sevens Squad | v. France
1. Jillion Potter
2. Kelly Griffin
3. Kathryn Johnson
4. Alev Kelter
5. Bui Baravilala
6. Lauren Doyle
7. Victoria Folayan
8. Carmen Farmer
9. Joanne Fa’avesi
10. Richelle Stephens
11. Ryan Carlyle
12. Jessica Javelet
Team USA Rugby Sevens Squad | Rio 2016 Olympic Summer Games
v. Fiji – L 12-7
v. Colombia – W 48-0
v. Australia – D 12-12
Quarterfinal v. New Zealand – L 5-0
Fifth-place Semifinal v. Fiji – W 12-7
Fifth-place Final v. France – W 19-5