Article by Alex Solomon | Originally published at usarugby.org
LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Three-quarters of Pool C at the Aug. 13-14 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships compete in the Women's Premier League. Throw in the Austin Valkyries, a 2016 Division I national playoff team this past spring, to go along with the Berkeley All Blues, Glendale Raptors, and San Diego Surfers, and you have quite possibly the toughest pool top-to-bottom.
No women's team has won more Club 7s National Championships than the Pacific South's No. 1 seed - San Diego Surfers. The club has been revered for its play in 15s, but something in the water in southern California has made the Surfers one of the most formidable sevens teams in the country.
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San Diego will not have its Championship-winning coach, Richie Walker, with them, though. The Women's Eagles Sevens lead man will be attendance at Club 7s for scouting purposes having stepped down from his role with the Surfers after being appointed the head coaching role with the Eagles.
The coaching staff for San Diego might have seen some changes, but over half of the team's roster that placed third at Nationals returns, including Eagles scrum half Deven Owsiany. While Owsiany is back, longtime Eagle and sevens enforcer Phaidra Knight and Olympian Jessica Javelet, both of whom played with the Surfers last summer, are not part of the squad this year. Instead, Eagles Sevens playmaker Hunter Griendling, who helped American Rugby Pro Training Center win a National Championship in sevens last year, has been inserted into San Diego's back line. Additionally, Lauren Daly makes her return to the Surfers. The Eagle lock has been out of competitive rugby since the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup to deal with ongoing back issues, but has returned to her old club for another run at a National Championship.
Only one team has won as many Club 7s National Championships at the Surfers, and that is the Berkeley All Blues. The two clubs' historical dominance makes them the favorites to advance out of Pool C.
The All Blues as a club have a lot of Club 7s experience, but the team itself is fairly young. The average age of Berkeley's squad heading to Denver is just 24 years old. Included in the All Blues' youth movement is a host of players from a talented UC Berkeley side and American International winger Bulou Mataitoga. Although Mataitoga applies her college rugby on the East Coast, the Bay Area native is back in California for the summer and has been opening eyes during the Pacific North qualifying tournaments.
Leading the gifted group of up-and-coming players around the park will be All Blues stalwart Jessica Turner. The 15s winger can run, pass and tackle, but her leadership might be Turner's most valuable asset this weekend.
The Glendale Raptors have been the best team in the country the past few years in 15s, but has not found its stride as a club in sevens yet. Without a Club 7s Nationals appearance to their name since 2011, the Raptors are hoping to convert their 15s dominance into a Cup Final run this weekend.
Glendale has not played at Nationals for five years, but several Raptors have recent Club 7s experience playing with the Rocky Mountain Squids the past two summers, including Eagle Joanna Kitlinski. The ferocious flanker is joined by four other Raptors who were a part of Glendale's 2015 WPL Championship win over the All Blues.
The Austin Valkyries have yet to play in a Club 7s National Championship, but the achievement has been something the club has been working towards. After reaching the Division II club playoffs in 15s in 2015, the Valkyries won the Red River competition outright to place in the Division I playoffs this past spring. Austin has carried its recent 15s success into the summer months, and qualified behind American Rugby Pro Training Center as the region's No. 2 seed to Nationals.
The Valkyries roster might not be filled with household names, but Autumn Farris, Sierra Jenkins, and Brenda Ramirez are well worth keeping an eye on. Each of the trio scored at least six tries for Austin during its 2015-16 season in 15s.
The 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships will take place Aug. 13-14 at Dick's Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo. Every one of the 96 matches at Club 7s Championships will be available to watch free of charge on The Rugby Channel.