Article by Alex Solomon | Originally published at usarugby.org
LAFAYETTE, Colo. - June 25 begins a two-week stretch when each of the eight competitive regions will host qualifying events for this year's Club 7s National Championships. Saturday also marks the opening tournaments for half of the regions. Still, series standings points and positioning for entry to regional championships are crucial from the get-go
Newport 7s - Newport, RI
A week after taking an early lead in the Men's Atlantic North sevens standings with a first-place finish at Monmouth 7s, Old Blue of New York hopes to make it two-for-two this weekend at Newport 7s. Not surprisingly, Old Blue and second-placed Monmouth finishers, Mystic River, will be entering two sides.
Bulldog Rugby and New York Athletic Club are true contenders in the qualifier bracket, as well, but it will not be easy. Old Blue received a potential boost to its sevens squad when fly half James Bird was released from Eagles camp to return to the east coast from California.
A couple of very strong women's teams will have to deal with a loaded bracket at Newport, as teams attempt to earn a spot in the Women's Atlantic North Championship event at Saratoga 7s. Beantown and Boston Rugby are two of the best on the East Coast, with Beantown getting the better of Boston this season on its way to a conference championship in 15s.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic North women's sevens action, Flower City 7s in Rochester, N.Y., and Tri-State 7s in Danbury, Conn., are taking shape June 25.
Denver 7s - Commerce City, Colo.
The second-longest running sevens tournament kicks off for the 49th time this weekend. Denver 7s is not only one of the more popular tournaments, as proof by this year's 170 participating teams, but an immensely important stop for the men's Frontier squads. With only three qualifier events in the region, series sevens points are precious for those with intentions of playing at Nationals.
The Denver Barbarians have won the last four Denver 7s, and are always in the mix for a Cup Finals run at Nationals. Always pushing the Barbarians are the Kansas City Blues. A Midwest 15s team, the Frontier sevens unit reached the Cup Semifinals at the 2014 Club 7s National Championships, and has been so good it has helped in preventing 15s powerhouse Glendale Raptors from qualifying for Nationals since 2011. The Raptors, though, have proven to be in good sevens form after navigating themselves into the Cup Finals of last week's extremely difficult OMBAC 7s field.
Anyone that has seen the Omaha Goats knows not to sleep on them, but there are two select sides that should show well in Denver. Rugby Utah's National Development Academy Selects will be very athletic, and the US Army Selects, which reached the Cup Quarterfinals at last summer's Nationals, will be competing at Dick's Sporting Good Park, as well.
Blue Balls 7s - Wilmington, DE
Northern Virginia Women's Rugby has not missed Club Nationals since the first women's sevens championship in 2011. NOVA's journey to a sixth consecutive Nationals appearance begins at Blue Balls 7s, where it will contend with two teams that reached Nationals themselves last summer in Philadelphia Rugby and Scion Sirens. Last year, Scion was in its infancy of elite academy training and should be better prepared and drilled this go-around.
The Women's Premier League's DC Furies missed out on Club 7s Nationals for the first time last year, and will be eager to start the summer on a positive note at Blue Balls 7s, as will the Pittsburgh Angels. After an undefeated regular season in the Mid-Atlantic, the Angels fell to NOVA in a regional playoff match, and will be looking for redemption should they run into NOVA.
The Schuylkill River Exiles have made a name for themselves in sevens in recent years, and will headline a stout men's qualifying field. The boys from Philadelphia have qualified for Nationals each of the past five seasons. In 2015, the team made its best run at a Club 7s National Championships since its Cup Final appearance in 2011.
Based on 15s, Rocky Gorge should provide the Exiles their stiffest competition. In its first season playing Division I, Rocky Gorge had its way with the Mid-Atlantic, going a perfect 14-0 in conference play. The rest of the men's premier bracket includes the Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies, NOVA, and the Pittsburgh Pandemonium Pandas.
Minnesota 7s - Eagan, MN
The western portion of the men's sevens competition in the Midwest moves to act No. 2 at Minnesota 7s. Current standings points leader Chicago Lions should be the perceived favorites, but the Chicago Blaze will have a better draw this week after its surprise second-place finish at Madtown Rugby 7s.
The Chicago Griffins will not be competing at this weekend's tournament, leaving a gap for a team like Metropolis, the Milwaukee Barbarians, or even St. Paul to make a run at the Cup Final in Eagan.
Northern California gets its first taste of qualifying sevens in the state's capital at Sacramento 7s. Last year's NorCal rep on the men's side, Life West Gladiators, will be heavily challenged by Pacific Rugby Premiership finalist San Francisco Golden Gate Rhinos, and an Olympic Club team that got its boots wet last week in competitive fashion at OMBAC 7s.
The Women of Life West also qualified for Nationals, and will look to do the same in 2016 after winning a National Championship in 15s last month. The Gladiatrix might be the up-and-coming club, but the Berkeley All Blues are two-time National Champions in sevens, and reached yet another Cup Semifinal at last year's Championship event.
Beach City 7s - San Clemente, CA
Belmont Shore would like to extend its lead in the Pacific South sevens standings, but will likely be put to the test by familiar foes Old Mission Beach Athletic Club and the Santa Monica Dolphins. While those three SoCal clubs are traditionally in the running for Club 7s National Championship qualification, the Orange County Ravens showed well last week at OMBAC 7s, and will find themselves near the top of the standings if they can pull off an upset or two Saturday.
Extraordinarily consistent sevens club and WPL contenders in 15s, the San Diego Surfers begin their run to a sixth straight Nationals appearance in San Clemente. The second-most winning women's team in Club 7s National Championship history will test its depth this weekending by fielding two sides against a bracket consisting of Belmont Shore, San Fernando, and the Las Vegas Slots.
Sweat 7s - Little Rock, AK
Like the Frontier Region, the Red River hosts a three-event series - so points are at a premium. Last summer the conference's best in 15s, the Austin Blacks and Dallas Reds, both qualified for Nationals in sevens. In April, both teams again advanced to Nationals in 15s, with the Blacks advancing all the way to the National Championship, so there is reason to think these two could lead that pack in both codes in 2016, as well.
Little Rock will get a boost playing at home, and is coming off of a 15s season that continued on to the National Quarterfinals, but the Austin Huns may have the best chance of knocking off the Blacks and Reds. The Huns doubled their 15s wins from 2015 this past spring, and are coming off of a tournament victory at Bloodfest 7s - where they bested Dallas, 36-31, in the Final.
The Women's Red River competition also gets underway in Little Rock, where a high performance training squad from American Rugby Pro Training Center that went a perfect 6-0 on its way to the 2016 Club 7s National Championship will be in action. As usual, spots on the ARPTC roster will be fiercely competitive with several collegiate athletes representing D1 Elite's Life, Lindenwood, and Penn State working on their game at the Olympic Development Academy member over the summer.
The Dallas Harlequins, Oklahoma Rose, and Little Rock are in the Sweet 7s field, but the Austin Valkyries probably have the best shot of slowing down ARPTC. The Valkyries went undefeated in 15s out of the Red River's Division I conference.
Queen City 7s - Charlotte, NC
A smaller field will matriculate in Charlotte for Queen City 7s. Charlotte Rugby will send both its men's and women's sides to contend against Columbia Old Grey and Southern Pines in the men's field, and a talented Atlanta Harlequins squad on the women's end.
Todd Miller 7s - Clermont, FL
After dominating Fiji 7s, Miami Rugby ought to be the favorite this week at Todd Miller 7s. The Naples Hammerheads, who looked good in the region's opening tournament until falling to Miami in the Final, will hold the second seed. It will most likely be up to Orlando Rugby or the Gainesville Hogs to prevent Miami and Naples from reaching another Final.
It was a two-team race in Florida's women's competition in 15s, and it may be the case in sevens, as well. Orlando took it to Fort Miami in last week's Final, so Fort Miami will be looking to turn the tables on its rival. Phoenix Rugby will also raise its hand for Florida qualifying contention in the True South when the three teams complete a round-robin tomorrow.
Vulcan 7s - Birmingham AL
After winning NOLA 7s without a test, New Orleans Royale looks well on its way to representing the True South at the July 23 South 7s Championship. The question is, will New Orleans be in the form necessary to win the South title and play into August after missing Nationals for the first time in three seasons last year?