Going into the Nationals weekend, I already knew we had a special group of players this season. With our combination of speed, strength, youth, and experience we were looking very dangerous across the board. Our goal heading into the tournament was to surprise the USA rugby community, and it’s safe to say we did just that.
Day 1 - Saturday
We started day one playing a solid side from Houston, Texas (Houston Athletic Rugby Club). Houston would strike first off of an errant kick-off, but our defense would keep them on the edge making for a tough conversion, 0-5. North Shore would strike back with a great break through the middle from Emma Farnan who shirked three tackles in the process, 7-5. Houston would score another try on the edge before the end of the first half, but again the NS defense would force the try out wide 7-10. The second half saw Farnan score again early with the conversion bringing the score to 14-10. NS would be in again through a run-around try from Lizzy Geary, 19-10. There would be lots of back and forth before the end of the game. Houston would get one final try on the edge but miss the conversion. Final score, 19-15.
Emma Farnan running in for a try.
Our second game of the day would be against an old rival NOVA. The Green and Gold had faced NOVA at nationals in 2021 and beat them in overtime. This game would prove to be another nail-biter. North Shore took an early lead with an offload from Esther Anderson to Kadie Sanford. Sanford would dive over the line for the try and Farnan would convert, 7-0. The next 10 minutes of rugby would see lots of back and forth. NOVA would probe into NS’s half, but our edge defense would prove too much for the ladies from Northern Virginia. Great defensive efforts from Geary and Emily Krahn would keep NOVA’s speed in check and well-timed poaches from Olga Niyibizi would squash any building momentum. The game would end with only one try on the board, NS wins 7-0.
With two wins in our pool, North Shore was already guaranteed a spot in the quarter-finals. The outcome of our next game would simply impact who we faced. NS would take on the powerhouse Life West for our third match. Seeing as they were the runners-up in the 2021 National Championship tournament, NS was widely considered the underdog.
The game started with Life West kicking off to North Shore. NS was the first to draw blood with another strong carry from Farnan. Breaking through two tackles Life West couldn’t seem to bring Farnan down and she would score under the posts. Emma would also kick the conversion, 7-0. NS’s “impenetrable defense” would keep Life West in their own end for the rest of the half. At half-time, the team discussed maintaining the defensive pressure and pushing Life West to make mistakes. Life West would struggle to get out of their 22 for the rest of the game. A well-timed kick from Emily Krahn forced Life West to play out of their try zone. Big hits from Anderson and Erin Nelsen would end with Life West having to kick a 22 drop. Rachel Kaplan, seeming to have put super glue on her hands, would snag the kick out of the air, setting up an attack down the right side of the field. A series of offloads from Geary to Anderson to Niyibizi, and then a pick from Krahn would see Krahn diving over for North Shore’s second try, 12-0. The final whistle blew leaving Life West scoreless and NS would top the pool!
The Green and Gold out for team dinner on Saturday night.
Day 2 - Sunday
Because we topped our pool we would face the second seed in pool A, which just so happened to be…the Chicago Lions. We’d played them all summer. We knew their style and they knew ours. This match was going to come down to grit and determination. Farnan, as per usual, would start the scoring. A lovely pin and pass after contact from Kadie Sanford would send Emma into open space for an easy run-around try. She would kick her own conversion, giving NS an early 7-0 lead. The rest of the half would be back and forth. North Shore would probe the Lions’ defense with some well-spotted kicks but would be unable to regather the ball. The Lions would try to run around on the edge, but defensive efforts from Geary, Krahn, Sanford, and Anderson would close those options down quickly. We went into half-time with the same score.
The second half started a little rough for the green and gold. Big hits from players like Tarynn Mays and Erin Nelsen would thwart the Lions on several occasions, but they finally broke through with a try and conversion after two minutes of play, 7-7. The score line was even, but NS remained calm and collected. A late knock-on by the Lions in our 40 would set up an attacking scrum. Farnan, using her footwork and keeping her hands free would draw in three defenders, and still get the pass off to Geary. Geary, tiptoeing along the touchline, would run 60+ meters to score her second try of the tournament, putting NS up 12-7. The defense would hold for the rest of the game and North Shore would progress to the semi-final!
Lizzy Geary shuts down a Lions' break on the edge.
Now, by this point, North Shore had already become a history-making team. No women’s team from Chicago had ever gone this far in the National 7s Championship before and the team was motivated to do more. We would head to the semi-final to face Washington Athletic Club.
The game started off with some good back and forth between the two teams. Seattle scored first through a wrap-around try and made the conversion bringing the score to 0-7. NS would probe deep into the Seattle end multiple times, but would not be able to convert those opportunities into points. An unfortunate and somewhat controversial yellow card would see NS go down to six players in the first half. Seattle would capitalize on this advantage scoring again and making the conversion, 0-14. The second half would look very much the same for the Green and Gold. We would have a few late runs and key steals, but Seattle’s high-speed offense would prove too much for us. The final whistle blew, 0-29 to WAC.
Olga Niyibizi throws a high ball to Rachel Kaplan for a well-executed line-out against WAC.
North Shore was out of the running for the cup final, but we still had one more game to play. We would fight for third place against the San Diego Surfers. The Surfers, yet another club with a long history of winning (7s Champions in 2012, 2014, 2018, & 2019), would prove to be a tough opponent. San Diego opened up the scoring with a missed tackle in the middle, 0-7. NS would win a penalty and set up a nice attacking platform off of a line out. Farnan, utilizing her stiff arm, broke through the defense and scored a try right under the post, 7-7. San Diego’s pace and passing skills stretched our defense and the surfers scored two more tries. We would go into the half within striking distance, 7-19. Unfortunately, the second half almost completely mimicked the first. The Surfers’ speed at the breakdown and support off of the ruck would prove too much for NS’s tired bodies. The game ended with a San Diego win, 7-38.
It would be easy to look at those two final performances and get caught up in the scorelines or the fact that we lost. It would be easy to wallow in the missed opportunities or the missed tackles. But the truth is there is so much more good to look at:
13 players, 2 coaches, and 13 supporters traveled to Nationals in St. Louis.
8 out of the 13 players had never played in a Club 7s National Championship before.
4 different players scored tries throughout the weekend.
Our record on the weekend was 4-2.
We finished top 4 in the country.
We finished higher than any women’s team in Chicago history.
As a coach, I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such an incredible group of people. Even when times were tough, they believed in each other. Even when mistakes were made, they built each other up. I have been a part of this club for almost a decade, and seasons like this are rare. To have a group of people so committed to each other is rare. To have a group with this much talent is rare. To have the chance to make history is rare.
I am hopeful about the future, and I truly believe this season is the spark that will light a fire for many seasons to come. In the end we achieved our goals. We surprised the rugby world, we became smarter rugby players and even better teammates. In that, I am content.
-Lauren Trout, NS 7s Headcoach