Article by Chad Wise | Originally published at usarugby.org
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - Dick's Sporting Goods Park hosted eight Rugby Sevens Finals Sunday at the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships, where Scion Rugby Academy and Rugby Utah won National titles in their first attempts.
Thirty-two teams entered Sunday's Semifinals having played four games apiece in an 11-hour Day One. Seattle Saracens, defending National Champions since 2013, bowed out of the men's competition under the stadium lights in Saturday's Cup Quarterfinals, while Scion dropped 2015 Champion American Rugby Pro Training Center to the third-place match in this morning's Semifinals.
The women of Old Blue of New York stunned 2015 runners-up Seattle Saracens in the first round of knockout play to advance to the Semifinal matchup with Oregon Rugby Sports Union, and sprinted to a 10-0 lead. ORSU overcame two first-half yellow cards for a 12-10 halftime score, but Old Blue scored an early try in the second frame and held on for the 17-12 victory.
National Development Academies ARPTC and Scion were top seeds from their respective pools when they entered the Cup round, and were evenly matched in a high-paced Semifinal. Eagle Samantha Pankey scored the only try of the first half and capped Women's Eagles Sevens Ashley Perry ticked the scoreboard for ARPTC for a 12-7 Scion lead that held through the remaining minutes. The Little Rock, Ark., outfit defeated ORSU to take the tournament's bronze medal.
The Cup Final was less dramatic, as a first-minute try for Scion was followed by a Pankey fend and Saskia Morgan try two minutes after the first. The scoring did not come from Old Blue's side of the pitch through 20 minutes of play despite Pankey receiving a yellow card in the final two minutes from time, and Emily Fulbrook ended an extended defensive sequence with an interception and try for a 38-0 score at full time.
Scion completes the weekend with a 6-0 record and two trophies in tow. Morgan's performance throughout the side's campaign at Club 7s earned her recognition as Most Valuable Player not six weeks after her debut international cap at the Women's Rugby Super Series.
"We had a lot of players at Super Series, so when they came back and started playing we were peaking by the time we got to Nationals," Scion Coach Joanne Liu said. "We were ramping up to this the whole time. We had some awesome tests in the Mid-Atlantic with playing teams like Northern Virginia and Philadelphia every week; it helped us prepare for this. Not all of these teams get competition week after week like we do.
"I won't say it wasn't difficult, but our girls had the right chemistry, worked hard, and prepared well for it. I'm happy to see them win."
Saturday was a tough day for both Seattle Saracens teams, and the men dealt with defeat twice. Rugby Utah's intentions were made clear in the Quarterfinal smashing of the defending Champions if they had not been already in a 3-0 sweep of pool play. Old Blue was no pushover in its first four matches, but could not turn an early Semifinal lead into victory. With the score level at halftime, the teams traded tries before Utah scored twice late, 28-14.
All four top-ranked teams out of pool play advanced to the Semifinals, but Chicago Lions were outplayed by a Kansas City Blues team that missed out on last year's Cup round. The Blues' 21-5 victory set up an all-Frontier Region clash in the Cup Final, in which Kansas City barely touched the ball in the fist half, while Chicago would go on to drop the third-place match to Old Blue.
Most Valuable Player Don Pati scored two tries in the first 10-minute frame of the Final as Rugby Utah utilized Jared Whippy's restart kicks, unwavering support runners, and individual skill to race out to a 36-0 lead. The second half started much brighter for Kansas City with the Blues able to kick the game off themselves, scoring a try in the 11th minute. Kansas City ended the match with a try, but not before Rugby Utah crossed the try line twice more for a 48-12 final score.
"With the help of fantastic coaches, awesome staff, and some experienced players on the team," five-time Boys High School All-American Zachary Webber said, "there's nothing that could have stopped us except ourselves.
"We've been working on this for months now; touring to Kansas, Denver, Salt Lake City. All the work is worth it in the end."
Rugby Utah becomes the first club team from the state to win a National Championship in 7s, 10 months after its first entry into a sevens competition at the Halloween Rugby 7s invitational tournament. The National Champion and runner-up Kansas City took the Frontier Region spots at Club 7s at the expense of Denver Barbarians, who had appeared in every event since 2000.
"It's been a long road for us," Joseph Nicholls said. "[Halloween 7s] gave us great incentive to come back at it. With the good opportunities provided for us in Utah, we've been able to pull it together. When you consider us starting last year and training four months before this, it's just the start.
"It's greater than rugby. This is for the state of Utah, families, and friends. We've felt that we've brought more than just the medal home."