None of the USA's Australia 7s finalists had played in more than 15 World Series tournaments, an unusual achievement.
The best-ever finish indicates the Eagles have all but replaced the Todd Clever-Chris Wyles generation which lifted the US to new heights during the first half of the 2008-09 series. Done without the suspended Paul Emerick, a marked man, it also suggests there's more to come.
The accomplishment is manifold. First, Al Caravelli's scouting has been effective and roster decisions have been transparent. Trials camps, in addition to making good use of funding and facilities, have regularly included new faces, thereby creating healthy competition. Players know what it takes to make the team.
Second, coaching has prepared the athletes. That may sound obvious, but it is not. Too often one hears talk of 'in form' players or 'player-centric' gameplans, which amount to little more than abdicating responsibility for equipping the team to compete.
Third, the squad is becoming more consistent. After failing to score at 7 consecutive tournaments, raising doubts about retaining core status on the Sevens World Series, the Eagles have mounted twice mounted the kind of winning streaks that separate the achievers from the also-rans.
With 8 different teams having reached the semifinals at least once this season -- plus South Africa, which surprisingly hasn't won any quarterfinal matches -- the 2009-10 Series is more competitive than ever. Hong Kong and the end-of-season European tournaments loom.
It is not outlandish to worry that the USA will struggle to score again, and the IRB has (predictably) declined to indicate the criteria for core status. Still, having broken new ground and currently in a tie for ninth place, the Eagles are undeniably an asset to the series. They are an improving team, a team the leaders should beat but might not, a team that adds excitement.
More significant, the 7s Eagles look to have developed a model for identifying and training players and winning matches.
United States to Hong Kong 7s
Marco Barnard (Kutztown Univ.), Mark Bokhoven (Denver Barbarians), Nick Edwards (New York AC), Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma), Matt Hawkins (Belmont Shore), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore), Zach Pangelinan (OMBAC), Leonard Peters (Gentlemen of Aspen), Tom Saunders (Kansas City Blues), Shalom Suniula (Pearl City), Kevin Swiryn (captain, Old Puget Sound Beach), Zach Test (Loughborough Univ.)