Article by Alex Solomon | Originally published at usarugby.org
Four competitive regions will settle which teams will represent that area at the 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships at Dick's Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo. Additionally, three other regions are hosting qualifying events, giving teams one last chance to jockey for position ahead of their regional championship tournaments.
Pioneer 7s - Salt Lake City, UT
The new kid on the block in the Frontier Region, Rugby Utah's National Development Academy side, have already qualified for Nationals. This leaves the Denver Barbarians and Kansas City Blues to duke it out for the region's second spot at Nationals at this weekend's third and final Frontier qualifying event.
Neither of the two teams battling for a place at Nationals will be playing at home. The Barbarians placed third at the qualifying tournament in Denver, while the Blues also settled for third at their home event. Even though Utah's NDA has its spot at the Championship dinner table reserved, do not expect these young, up-and-coming athletes to take their feet off the gas in Salt Lake City.
In the women's Frontier competition, the Glendale Raptors have already claimed the region's representation to Nationals, and will make their first Club 7s Championship appearance since 2011.
Monk Vaughn 7s - Richmond, VA
The Scion Sirens have been in tremendous form all summer, and will earn their place at Nationals by getting off the bus in Richmond this weekend. The Mid-Atlantic's second women's seed is not settled, however. By splitting first place at last week's Slug 7s with Scion, Northern Virginia Rugby finds itself in a favorable position to finish second in the standings table, but must still fend off Philadelphia. The women of Philly trail NOVA by four-and-a-half points in the standings, and will either need NOVA to stumble in pool play or take first place at Monk Vaughn 7s for a chance to cash in on a Nationals bid.
The men's bracket at Monk Vaughn 7s is a true three-dog race. The Schuylkill River Exiles will have the most room for imperfection this weekend as it heads into Richmond leading the standings. Rocky Gorge, on the other hand, is third behind Schuylkill River and NOVA, and will likely need to at least reach the Cup Final in order to leapfrog NOVA and qualify for Nationals.
Rock Hard 7s - Grand Rapids, MI
1823 Rugby is the certain No. 1 seed out of the Midwest's Eastern region going into the July 30 Midwest Championships. The question is, who will get the more favorable draw at the regional Championships between the Cincinnati Wolfhounds and the Cleveland Crusaders? The Crusaders currently trail the Wolfhounds by just one point. So, whichever of the two teams has the better afternoon on Saturday will avoid an in-form 1823 at next weekend's Midwest Championships.
Rock Hard 7s represents the best women's teams in the Midwest their final chance to play up to their standards prior to the Midwest Championships. Six clubs have a chance to go into the regional championship as the No. 1 seed, although 1823 and the Youngbloodz might be the likeliest of candidates.
Pacific North (Northern California)
SFGG 7s - San Francisco, CA
The Pacific North does not have its championship event until July 30, but with Oregon Sports Union and Seattle Saracens gunning for a place at Nationals it will be imperative for Berkeley All Blues and Life West Gladiatrix to find their top forms at SFGG 7s. A top-place finish in San Francisco this weekend for either the All Blues or Gladiatrix should equate to an improved seed at their regional championship and a better chance of qualifying for Nationals.
Like the women in the region, the men will play a championship tournament July 30 between the top teams from the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Seattle Saracens, winners of the past three Club 7s National Championships (including two won by Seattle-OPSB), are more than likely to finish in the top two at the Nor Cal Championships. The East Palo Alto Razorbacks, Life West Gladiators and Olympic Club will be gunning to win SFGG 7s in hopes of avoiding the Saracens at next weekend's championship tournament.
SaMo 7s - Santa Monica, CA
Two teams will earn a place at the Club 7s National Championships in Santa Monica this weekend. Three-time National Champion Belmont Shore will be one of the Southern California teams to head to Denver, while three others will raise their hands for the other spot. The Santa Monica Dolphins are driving on the inside track as they currently lead both Old Mission Beach Athletic Club and the Orange County Ravens in the standings, but are also playing at home.
OMBAC, although currently sitting outside the top two in the Pacific South, look like a strong contender to jump ahead of Santa Monica and fly out to Denver in August. The boys from San Diego are coming off of a first-place finish at Sun Splash 7s, and only trail the Dolphins by three points. Meanwhile, the Ravens placed fourth at Sun Splash, making this weekend's result a tournament victory-or-bust scenario.
RRC South 7s - Austin, TX
The men's Red River competition has not gone along as many thought going into the summer. The Dallas Reds represented the Red River last year at nationals, while the Austin Blacks qualified the past two summers. The Austin Huns and Little Rock Stormers, on the other hand, have never competed at a Club 7s National Championship - until this year.
Both Austin and Little Rock have won a Red River event this summer, but will use the tournament in Austin to battle for the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds out of the Red River.
Old Blue and Scion should have an argument to make, but American Rugby Pro Training Center might be playing the best rugby of any women's club at the moment. An undefeated summer has their place at Nationals sealed where the academy athletes from Arkansas will attempt to defend their 2015 title.
The second women's seed out of the Red River is also spoken for. Coming off of a run into the Division I Playoffs for 15s, the Austin Valkyries have finished second behind ARPTC in both regional qualifiers. An upset over the National Development Academy on Saturday will not give Austin the Red River's No. 1 seed, but it could do wonders for the Valkyries heading into Nationals.
South 7s Championship - Charlotte, NC
The women of Orlando Rugby have been unstoppable playing out of the Florida Division in the South. They will head to Charlotte expecting one of two spots to Nationals, but so will the hosts. In years past, Charlotte has had a more social view on summer sevens. However, coming off its first place finish in the Carolinas Conference in 15s and a run into the National Playoffs, Charlotte has put a greater emphasis on sevens this summer and has a shot to punch a ticket to Denver on Saturday in front of its home fans.
The men's South Championship event will have far more serious contenders involved. Of course, the hosts will like their chances. Charlotte returned to Nationals last August after missing out on a couple of Championship tournaments. Its 12th-place finish was not ideal, but they will need to reach the Cup Final this weekend if they want to do better at Nationals in 2016.
On the flip side, New Orleans missed last year's National Championship tournament. Still considered one of the very best teams in the South regardless of code, the Royale will be disappointed to miss Nationals for a second consecutive summer.
Atlanta Old White and Miami Rugby enter the South Championship as the No. 1 seeds from the Georgia and Florida divisions, respectively. Those two squads, along with an Oklahoma Elite team coming off a first-place finish at Music City 7s, are legitimate contenders to enter the 16-team men's field at the Club 7s National Championships.