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Army Takes ACRA 7s Title

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Army Takes ACRA 7s Title

Nicole Heavirland was at the center of Army's attack.

Army is the new DI ACRA 7s champion, unseating Norwich after a 22-7 title bout. It’s tempting to focus on the victories over the Vermont side, which had won 63-straight 7s games entering this weekend’s championship, but the spotlight needs to shine on the West Pointers themselves. The hosts dominated the field and played a commanding, smart campaign to the title.

That campaign started early in the year, when head coach Bill LeClerc brought longtime compatriot Steve Lewis, of Old Blue and Northeast ODA, on board for spring 7s.

“Not many of the Army girls have actually played rugby [before the academy], so 7s was even newer to them,” Lewis said. “Basic skills are magnified in 7s, same with fitness – although that’s not a problem for them – and it took a little time, but they’re getting used to it.”

The team’s first success occurred at the Las Vegas Invitational in February, when Army won the Plate, finishing higher than any American side in the women’s college bracket, and beating BYU along the way. Army impressed at the talent-packed Varsity 7s, and dropped a one-point game to Norwich in the final. That was three weeks ago, and the West Pointers felt good about their progress since then, and looked forward to hosting the ACRA championships on their home field.

Army began the ACRA championship with a 29-12 win over Harvard, and then lined up against Norwich in the teams’ second pool play game. The Vermonters had won 63-straight 7s games and were the reigning ACRA champs (and are still the three-time reigning USA Rugby 7s champs). Army took it Norwich, and banked a 14-7 win on tries from Kate Roose and Lindy Clark, and two conversions from Nicole Heavirland.

The rest of pool play saw solid wins against American International College and Navy, and a 19-0 semifinal win over the Crimson put Army into the final for a Norwich rematch.

“Norwich is the gold standard,” Lewis said. “We had played a close one against them a few weeks ago, and they got over the hump winning yesterday, and left a few points on the board. They were confident going into the final. They knew what they wanted to achieve and executed.”

Norwich did not play the wide-open game for which it’s known, and preferred to take on Army around the breakdown and through traffic. There were moments when it paid off – like when Vanessa Champagne sucked in two defenders and managed a great offload for the team’s lone try – but it was too much contact against a team that wasn’t short on physicality.

Army was on the front foot, and Heavirland was a major frustration for Norwich.

“Nicole is terrific. She’s a class athlete, and I have high hopes for her,” Lewis said of the former All American who was recruited for West Point’s basketball team. “She is the one player who has previous experience, and it shows. She’s our playmaker, our kicker, and has a great attitude and work ethic. And she’s just a talented athlete.”

The freshman pairs well with senior Roose, the team’s best finisher, who scored Army’s two tries in the 12-point, first-half shutout.

“She’s next in line,” Lewis said in terms of standout players. “Alison McDonald, our center, has been a strong runner, and captain Ashley Mohr has shown terrific leadership.”

Norwich’s Hannah Bell converted the team’s second-half try, making it 12-7, but then Champagne was yellow-carded for tripping, and Army scored immediately, sending Kiersten Redmon over for the try.

Norwich had a good amount of possession, but was hurt by diving-over penalties as well as turnovers within Army’s five meter. On one such turnover, Chioma Odocha returned the ball to Norwich’s try zone, marking the final score and 22-7 win.

Army was emphatic in its second victory against Norwich and deserved the DI ACRA title. Unfortunately, for both teams, the 7s season ends now, as USA Rugby’s college 7s championship conflicts with graduation. In other tournament news, Davenport defeated Bloomsburg 31-0 for the DII title, and Wayne State extended its NSCRO 7s reign with a 22-17 win over Mount St. Mary's. Stay tuned for those reports.

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