Utah Olympians: BYU grad helps USA women's rugby open tourney with win; Rhyan White advances to semis

Players of New Zealand, in black, and Britain enter the field for their men's rugby sevens semifinal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Players of New Zealand, in black, and Britain enter the field for their men's rugby sevens semifinal match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Shuji Kajiyama, Associated Press)

AT THE GAMES β€” Rugby is back in the Olympic Games, and the U.S. women are ready to take center stage.

Kristi Kirshe scored two tries, and the United States opened Pool C play with a win over rugby newcomers China 28-14 at Tokyo Stadium.

Former BYU standout Jordan Matyas started at No. 8 for the United States. Born in Las Vegas, Matyas had dual citizenship after growing up in Alberta, Canada, but always aspired to represent Team USA in international competition.

Of course, Matyas also had to fall in love with rugby. She told the BYU student newspaper in 2018 that her goal was to play basketball in the WNBA, and "rugby was just something I did in the spring." Her mother Stacey played basketball at Southern Utah, and her father Evric played professionally in Europe, so when her sister Alexa took volleyball to the pro ranks, Jordan Matyas, then Gray, decided to do the same with rugby.

"I liked the contact aspect," Matyas says in her USA Rugby profile. "Once I started to understand rugby, I became really passionate about it because you could mix finesse with physicality."

She also has a built-in training partner since marrying husband Ryan Matyas in August 2018 four years after the former BYU All-American left school to turn pro. Ryan Matyas is a U.S. international who also plays for San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby.

Rugby made its return to the Olympics for the first time since 1924 in Rio 2016, when the United States finished second in its group and lost in the quarterfinals. Four years later β€” plus the year-long postponement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic β€” the Americans are expected to challenge for a spot on the podium.

The American men fell just short of the medal round last week, but the U.S. women are ready to pick up the banner for them.

And Matyas will be at the front of the scrum.

Swimming: Rhyan White advances to semifinals in 200 back

Herriman native Rhyan White easily locked up a place in the 200-meter semifinals, finishing first in her qualifying heat just ahead of American teammate Phoebe Bacon.

White's time of 2:08.23 was tied for the second-fastest mark in the prelims along with Canada's Kylie Masse, who won the silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke. Australia's Kaylee McKeown, the 100-meter back gold medalist, had the top qualifying time.

The top 16 swimmers from the prelim sessions advanced to the semifinals, which will air live during NBC's primetime slot Thursday. The top eight from those heats will advance to Friday's final. McKeown is the gold medal favorite, but White, Masse and Bacon are all expected to challenge for spots on the podium.

White has been a beneficiary of the Olympic Games being delayed a year. In 2020, White was largely unknown on the international and national stages, but that all changed after a stellar college season. She won four SEC championships and had two runner-up finishes at the NCAA championships at Alabama, and then she just kept getting faster.

White surprisingly won the 200-meter back at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a time of 2:05.73, which ranks as the third fastest time in the world this year. If she follows her current trajectory in Tokyo, she could challenge for gold come Friday.

Women's basketball: Canada 74, South Korea 53

Bridget Carleton had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists to help the Canadians rebound from a loss to Serbia for their first win of the Summer Games at Saitama Arena.

Former Utah standout Kim (Smith) Gaucher had one rebound and one assist for Canada, which plays Spain on Sunday.

Shooting: 25M pistol qualifying

Utah graduate Alexis Lagan scored 288 for an average of 9.600 in precision during qualifying rounds of the 25-meter pistol discipline, good for 21st place.

The top eight qualified for the final.

Upcoming schedule:

All times listed below are in MDT.

  • Women's rugby: USA vs. Japan - Jordan Matyas, BYU alum (3 a.m.)
  • Swimming: women's 200M backstroke qualifying - Rhyan White, Herriman native (5:06 a.m.)
  • Women's rugby: USA vs. Japan - Jordan Matyas, BYU alum (7:30 p.m.)
  • Men's volleyball: USA vs. Brazil - Taylor Sander, BYU alum (8:05 p.m.)

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