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USA women’s rugby upsets reigning gold medalists

Abby Gustaitis of the United States gets past Australia's Charlotte Caslick on her way to score a try, in their women's rugby sevens match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

TOKYO — The United States Women’s Rugby Sevens team’s gold medal dream is alive and well.

The Eagles shocked defending gold medalist Australia 14-12 on Friday morning to finish 3-0 in Group C.

Abby Gustaitis’s try and Nicole Heavirland’s conversion with less than three minutes left gave the Eagles the advantage in a game that saw the USA fall behind 12-0 at one point.

The Eagles’ physical play to close the game kept Australia pinned in its own end.

“The fact that it was a battle shows a lot. It’s really a testament to all my teammates and all of us out there. We went down two tries and we didn’t give up, we kept fighting and we got the results,” co-captain Kristen Thomas said. “We trained remotely for a while. Then once we came back to training, we trained in small groups. We still wear our masks in the gym at all times. We just had a lot of different restrictions. A lot of our tournaments in the buildup to this were canceled. This is the first tournament that we’ve had with 12 teams. We’ve played in a few invitationals with three to four teams. But it’s really exciting to finally be back playing rugby on the world stage.”

All three of the United States wins — which included a 17-7 win over host Japan on Thursday evening — were slow starts for the winners.

Cheta Emba also scored a try for the USA against Australia.

“It took everything we had,” Emba said. “We’re just thankful we got it done together. There’s no limit when we do it together — one to 13 and everyone back home as well. That’s what it took today. And I think we tapped into it and took it step-by-step. Good or bad. Got the job done.”

The United States is set to play Pool A runner-up at 5:30 a.m. in the quarterfinal round.

The opponent will be either New Zealand, Great Britain or the Russian Olympic Committee.

New Zealand’s final pool match with the Russian Olympic Committee team was postponed due to lightning on Friday morning, holding up the USA’s reveal of its next opponent.

2003 East Palestine High School graduate Liz Strohecker is the Eagles’ operation manager.

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