Update, 1:30 a.m. Thursday: The United States moved into the Olympic quarterfinals by defeating Japan 17-7 early Thursday. Alev Kelter did not play.
The Americans are 2-0 going into their final pool-play match, Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ADT, against Australia, which is also 2-0.
After they defeated China 28-14 to win their first rugby sevens match at the Tokyo Olympics, Alev Kelter and her teammates formed a circle, held hands and took two deep breaths in unison.
By then the Americans were breathing easy. Earlier, not so much. China struck first for an early lead and kept the United States off the scoreboard for the first five minutes of the 14-minute match Wednesday at Tokyo Stadium.
“It wasn’t easy at all, so it just showed us that every team is going to bring it and don’t doubt any team,” team member Ilona Maher told reporters after the match. “That was a little wake up call we needed, to play when it’s time to go. Every team is going to bring it.”
Down 7-0, Kelter and her teammates reeled off 28 straight points, 21 of them in the second half. China added a try with time running out for the 14-point difference.
Kelter, a 30-year-old from Eagle River, made an impact for the Americans with a punishing first-half tackle, a conversion kick and a gritty second-half run through a couple of defenders that set up the go-ahead try.
The game was the first of three pool-play games for the Americans. They return to Tokyo Stadium Thursday at 1 a.m. ADT for a match against Japan and again at 5:30 p.m. ADT for a match against Australia.
The 12-team tournament has three pools, each with four teams. The top eight will advance to the quarterfinals early Friday morning.
China jumped to a 7-0 lead. The Americans knotted the score with a try by Kris Thomas that came after Kelter leveled a Chinese ball-carrier. It was 7-7 at the half.
The U.S. took the lead for good, 14-7, on Kristi Kirshe’s try about two minutes into the second half. Kelter got the ball past midfield with a physical run through a couple of Chinese defenders and then passed to Kirshe.
The Americans stretched their lead to 28-7 with another try by Kirshe and one by Kayla Canett.
Kelter, a Chugiak High graduate, is one of two players back from the team that played at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the U.S. finished fifth.