Article by Alex Solmon | Originally published at usarugby.org
LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Qualification for the 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships begins Saturday, June 11, when the Midwest, Pacific North, and South Conferences open competitions that will ultimately end in regional championship tournaments. The three aforementioned regions are the only competitions that play towards a championship qualifying tournament, while the other five Competitive Regions compete in a qualifying series, accumulating points at each stop.
Cin City 7s - Cincinnati, Ohio
The East Division of the Midwest will converge in Cincinnati for Cin City 7s, where 1823 Rugby has to be considered the favorite. The summer select side based out of Columbus, Ohio, beat eventual National Champions Seattle Saracens in pool play before falling to the Denver Barbarians in the Cup Semifinals last year.
Last summer's 1823 squad at Nationals included a few players currently suiting up for PRO Rugby's Ohio Aviators. Still, Paul Holmes' outfit seems to constantly be unearthing young talent, and should not have trouble reloading this season.
The Cincinnati Wolfhounds are one team that could potentially challenge 1823. The Wolfhounds finished in the bottom half of an extremely competitive Midwest DI conference, but still managed wins in 15s against the likes of Chicago Griffins and Palmer College. Do not sleep on the Cleveland Crusaders, either. Yes, the Crusaders play DII, but Cleveland had a solid 15s season, only losing league matches to a Detroit Tradesmen team that played for a Division II National Championship last weekend.
Rounding out the Cin City field will be the Dayton Flying Pigs, the Grand Rapids Gazelles, and Louisville Rugby. Plenty of athletes will get quality playing time tomorrow, too, with 1823 and Cleveland sending two teams, and Cincinnati submitting three sides.
Modesto 7s - Modesto, Calif.
Three highly competitive fields are set for their first taste of qualifying sevens this summer in Modesto. In the Women's bracket, Life West will be forced to make a quick turnaround from last week's DII National Championship victory. Coming off its undefeated season in 15s, the Gladiatrix will have an eye towards Nationals, where the women of Life West returned to California with the Plate trophy in 2015.
Life West might be a team on the rise, but Women's Premier League's Berkeley All Blues have a championship pedigree, having won Club 7s National titles in 2011 and 2013. The All Blues fared well last August, too, reaching the Semifinals where they lost to Seattle Saracens. Attempting to keep up with the All Blues and Gladiatrix in Modesto will be San Francisco Golden Gate and the San Jose Seahawks.
The Men's field is equally stacked. Life West won Northern California's bid to Nationals last year and will be in Modesto. Testing the Gladiators will be Pacific Rugby Premiership's Olympic Club and San Francisco Golden Gate Rhinos, as well as an East Palo Alto Razorbacks program that reached the Cup Quarterfinals at Nationals in 2014. O-Club could be a dark-horse favorite after winning a warm-up tournament last weekend in Marin.
Life West will likely be calling on some younger talent to replace a few standouts who are now running with the San Francisco Rush of PRO Rugby, and are not the only team in the field that has lost top players to PRO squads. Roster shakeups could open the door for the likes of the East Bay Blues, Sacramento Lions, Santa Rosa Rugby, and the San Jose Seahawks to have a successful afternoon.
In a Men's Open Division tournament field that does not have any bearing on qualification to the July 30 Pacific North 7s Championship, Life West, San Jose, and SFGG will see their second teams compete, and the Aptos Beach Dogs, Colusa County, Sacramento Capitals, and Reno Zephyrs will also be in action.
Renegade 7s - Atlanta, Ga.
Fourteen teams are throwing their names into the Renegade 7s tournament field. Two of the 14 clubs, Atlanta Old White and the Atlanta Renegades, have previously qualified for Nationals. The Renegades competed with the country's best back in 2003 and 2004, while Old White has competed at Nationals as recently as 2014.
The Savannah Shamrocks are one team that has the potential to emerge victorious in Atlanta. The DIII club was a perfect 9-0 in 15s this year before losing in the National Quarterfinals.
In the Women's field, a trio of teams made up of the Atlanta Harlequins, University of Georgia, and the Mother Ruckers will battle for a spot at the July 23 South 7s Championship. After placing at Nationals three out of four years beginning in 2011, including a fourth-place finish in 2013, the Atlanta Harlequins will be determined to get back to the Club 7s National Championships after missing out last summer.