Clubs position themselves for regional championship tournaments; Atlantic North set to qualify four teams
Article by Alex Solomon | Originally published at usarugby.org
LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Six qualifying events for the 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships at Dick's Sporting Good Park outside of Denver highlight the weekend's action of club sevens. The Pacific Northwest, True South, and Western portion of the Midwest play their final qualifying event prior to Regional Championship tournaments, while the Mid-Atlantic and Pacific South compete in the ever-important third leg of their four-tournament series. In the Atlantic North, four teams will punch tickets to nationals in the region's final men's and women's qualifying events of the summer.
Saratoga 7s - Saratoga, NY
Tournament victories at Monmouth 7s and Newport 7s have Old Blue in fine shape to earn one of two men's qualifying spots for Nationals in the Atlantic North heading into the fourth and final qualifying event in the region. Although the boys from New York settled for third at last week's Hell Gate 7s, Old Blue would need to miss out on the Semifinals of this weekend's final qualifying event to be in danger of slipping out of the coveted top-two places in the Atlantic North standings, and with the potential return of Eagles Harry Higgins and Luke Hume to the lineup, it does not appear to be a likely scenario.
Mystic River's win at Hell Gate 7s boosted its hopes for Nationals, and the Division I National Champion currently stand five standings points ahead of New York Athletic Club. An appearance in the Cup Final this weekend books Mystic's ticket to Nationals, but with capable squads like the Connecticut Bulldogs and Village Lions capable of pulling off an upset, there is plenty to play for in Saratoga.
Old Blue has hopes of qualifying two teams to Nationals this weekend, as two women's Atlantic North seeds to Club 7s Championships will be awarded, as well. The Women of Old Blue have been nearly unstoppable all summer, and are the favorites to claim one of two spots to Nationals this weekend.
The second seed for next month's 16-team Championship event appears to be a three-team race between Beantown, Boston Women's Rugby, and New York Rugby. Boston took top prize at Newport 7s, while Beantown won last weekend's Springfield 7s. New York has yet to show signs of keeping pace with Old Blue in the Empire Downstate division, but the 2015 Bowl Champions have not missed Nationals since 2013 and will be determined to get the job done Saturday.
Slug 7s - Columbia, MD
Slug 7s is the third of four Mid-Atlantic qualifiers, and will be a crucial stop to collect regional standings points ahead of July 23's Monk Vaughn 7s. On the women's end, Scion is on pace to take finish in the top two, which is good enough for qualification to Nationals. Northern Virginia Rugby's second-place finish helps the team's cause in making a record sixth consecutive appearance to Nationals, but Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are very much within striking distance.
The three-team fight for two places in the men's 16-team field at Club 7s National Championships is tight in the Mid-Atlantic, and will surely not be settled until next week's final qualifying event. Rocky Gorge rebounded from its third-place finish at Blue Balls 7s to raise the first-place trophy last week in Virginia. Northern Virginia has a first-place finish of its own under its belt, and Schuylkill River is in good shape thanks to back-to-back appearances in the Cup Finals of Mid-Atlantic qualifiers.
Ducks 7s - Iowa City, IA
The Western half of the Midwest sevens competition returns to qualification action for the first time in three weeks at Duck 7s. The four teams from the West that are likely headed to the July 30 Midwest Championship have made themselves known, being the Chicago Blaze, Chicago Lions, Metropolis, and the Milwaukee Barbarians. Tomorrow's tournament will see the two Chicago sides battle over the top two West seeds to the Midwest Championship, while Metropolis and Milwaukee will position themselves for either No. 3 or No. 4 out of the West. Saint Paul Rugby could sneak into the region's Championship mix, too, if the Pigs pull off an upset or two.
The Women of 1823 Rugby are in the best form of any team in the Midwest. They have not sealed a spot to Nationals, but if 1823 continues to play the way it has, either the Chicago Lions or Youngbloodz will be left out of the Championships. The three-way battle will be fun to watch over the next two weeks, as the Lions have not missed Nationals since 2012, and you have to date back to 2011 to find a Club 7s National Championship that did not involve the Youngbloodz.
Pacific North (Pacific Northwest)
Roy Lucas 7s - Portland, OR
Oregon Sports Union let its intentions be known last week when it bested 2015 Cup Finalist Seattle Saracens in the Final of the Can-Am 7s. Regardless of their results at the Roy Lucas 7s, both ORSU and Seattle will compete in the July 30 Pacific North 7s Championship but tomorrow's tournament is still crucial to building continuity and confidence heading into the regional championship tournament.
It is also important for the top two women's Pacific North sides to show well in Portland because Club 7s Championship contenders San Diego Surfers will be in attendance to earn some competitive minutes.
Only a handful of teams in the country can give the men of the Seattle Saracens a handful, and they do not appear to be coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Still, Seattle must continue to improve each event because capable sides like the East Palo Alto Razorbacks, Life West Gladiators, and Olympic Club are likely headed to the Pacific North Championships to contend with the Saracens for two places at Nationals.
Sun Splash 7s - Long Beach, CA
Sun Splash 7s marks the third of four Pacific South qualifiers, and the competition is shaping up to be a spirited one. Belmont Shore is currently head and shoulders above the rest of the men's field after taking first place in each of the first two So Cal events. Santa Monica and Orange County are tied at second. The Dolphins, a team typically very strong in sevens, was expected to challenge Belmont Shore, whereas the Ravens have been a pleasant big surprise this summer. The OC Ravens have found a way to channel its recent success in 15s at the DIII level to sevens in one of the most competitive regions in the country.
OMBAC, on the other hand, has finished a disappointing fourth in both Pacific South events, and cannot afford to wait until next weekend's qualifier in Santa Monica, Calif., to reach a Cup Final.
South (True South)
Music City 7s - Nashville, TN
The New Orleans Royale have already qualified for the July 23 Southern Region Championships and will not be traveling to Nashville to compete at Music City 7s. That gives the True South's current second-place team, Oklahoma Elite, one less high-end team to worry about. The Knoxville Possums sit at third, but have not finished better than fourth at a qualifying event this summer, and need a minor miracle to leapfrog the young Elite training squad out of Oklahoma to stake claim in the Southern Championships.