Article by Chad Wise | Originally published at usarugby.org
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - Sixty-four of the 96 matches at the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships were played on the grounds of Dick's Sporting Goods Park Saturday, and eight teams are still in the race for a National Championship.
Women's Cup Semifinalists Scion Sirens and Oregon Rugby Sports Union kicked off the day at nine a.m. MT in separate matches, while the men's competition kicked off 80 minutes later on fields outside of the main stadium on the outskirts of Denver. The National Championship concludes Sunday, Aug. 14, with the Finals of both genders' Shield, Bowl, Plate, and Cup - as well as the third-place matches - scheduled for the stadium field beginning at noon MT. The action kicks off at nine a.m. MT on The Rugby Channel, where streams from all three fields are available to viewers at no cost.
American Rugby Pro Training Center made history in Des Moines, Iowa, last year, winning the women's National Championship in just its first year of existence as a squad. Not shockingly, ARPTC went undefeated through its three matches against Old Blue of New York, Phoenix, and Youngbloodz Saturday to take the top seed out of Pool A. Capped Women's Eagles Sevens Rachel Perry set the tone for the club from Little Rock, Ark., while XVs Eagle Jess Wooden provided the composure and conversion-kicking accuracy necessary to reach the Cup Semifinals.
Seattle Saracens fell just shy of winning the 2015 title as runners-up, and did not need any more motivation than that to make a return to the National Championship. Carrying the Pacific North No. 1 seed - and No. 2 overall in the 16-team field behind ARPTC - into the tournament, Seattle conceded 14 points in matches against Boston, Chicago Griffins, and Northern Virginia before the Cup Quarterfinals. Eagle Kelsi Stockert's hat trick in the final Pool B match against the Griffins put the Saracens over the century mark in points scored, and doomed Chicago to the bottom of the pool.
Northern Virginia's two wins were enough for a Cup Quarterfinal place, but the reigning Champion was much too strong in knockout play, defeating the Nor'easters. Seattle was outplayed by a strong Old Blue team to end any redemptive hopes the Saracens had of facing ARPTC again. Three high tackles in the first two minutes of the Quarterfinal gifted the New Yorkers a player-advantage and a quick try before a 14-0 halftime lead turned into a 21-14 victory when Tahlia Brody broke a 14-14 deadlock with 90 seconds remaining. Eagle and Pennsylvania State University Head Coach Kate Daley led a team that includes AIG Women's Collegiate All-Americans Kaitylyn Broughton - a 2016 College 7s National Champion with Life University - and Sarah Buonopane and Girls High School All-American Kat Ramage in a see-saw battle with last year's runner-up.
Pool C was somewhat dubbed the women's competition's "Pool of Death," as three of the four entrants compete in the Women's Premier League during the XVs season. The Austin Valkyries paid the price, finishing fourth without a victory. Glendale Raptors, the only team that did not need to travel from out of the state to compete in this year's event, was only able to beat Austin during pool play to miss out on the Cup Quarterfinals, as well. Berkeley All Blues, the 2015 WPL runners-up, and San Diego Surfers met in the final match of pool play to decide Pool C's top seed, and the Surfers, who had Eagles coach Richie Walker watching as a scout on the sidelines, dominated their northern California counterparts, 26-7.
Like ARPTC, Scion is a National Development Academy as part of USA Rugby's Olympic Development Academy program, and the combination of young talent and a veteran coaching staff saw the club through to the Cup Quarterfinals as Pool D's top seed. WPL's Oregon Rugby Sports Union, which creates a calendar-year schedule that could rival most women's programs around the world, handled Orlando and Tempe Ninjas before the deciding clash with Scion, and outlasted the competition's No. 3 overall seed, San Diego, in a thrilling Cup Quarterfinal at Dick's Sporting Goods Stadium.
Both of Pool A and Pool D's Quarterfinalists move on to Sunday's Cup Semifinal round, with an all-ODA battle between ARPTC and Scion up first at 11:20 a.m. MT and the Old Blue-ORSU clash to follow on Field 2.
A big story heading into the knockout stages of last year's National Championships was the fact Seattle Saracens, winners of back-to-back titles, had not lost a competitive sevens match in nearly three years. 1823 Rugby ended that streak in pool play, though the team coached by the "King of Sevens" himself, Waisale Serevi, would not lose a match thereafter on its way to the 2015 Championship. Kansas City Blues took a page out of 1823's book in the second match of Pool A Saturday, handing Seattle a humbling, 21-7, defeat. The Frontier No. 2 seed finished off Bowl Quarterfinalists Austin Huns and New Orleans to claim the top spot in the pool, while Seattle was made to work for its final victory against Austin to secure its place in the Cup round.
Though the roster missed young All-Americans Tua Laei and Calvin Whiting, who finish touring Australia with the AIG Men's Collegiate All-Americans this weekend, Rugby Utah had no problems getting through pool play with an undefeated record of its own. Pool B bottom-dweller Northern Virginia gave the NDA a test in its third match, but top-seeded Utah strolled into the Cup Quarterfinals and right on through to the Semifinals with a convincing, 33-5, win over Seattle. A conversion kick in front of the posts, under the lights at Dick's Sporting Goods Park brought the first day's activities to an end.
Belmont Shore's matchup with the Blues in the Quarterfinals went the way of Kansas City, whose Gannon Moore recovered from an apparent injury earlier in the day to cross the try line in the knockout round.
Olympic Club's first Club 7s appearance since 2012 will not end in a title, or even a Cup Quarterfinals berth, but the club from northern California can be proud of its display in a tough Pool C, where Eagles James Bird and Harry Higgins' Old Blue ran the table. 1823 also advanced to the Cup Quarterfinals despite a scare from Schuylkill River, with the Exiles shocking the sevens specialists from Ohio in a 12-all draw in the opening match of pool play.
The Midwest feared the Chicago Lions name on tournament rosters this summer, and Pool D at Dick's Sporting Goods Park found out why the hard way. Santa Monica Dolphins never recovered from their day-opening defeat to the eventual pool-toppers, who built a 17-0 lead over Atlanta Old White to survive a 27-21 encounter with the South No. 1. Division I XVs National Champion Mystic River had qualified for the Cup round before it faced Chicago in its third match, in which it was not necessarily outplayed. Lindenwood University's Nick Feakes accounted for 16 of the Lions' points in the win, before Chicago took it to 1823 in shutout fashion, 22-0.
Mystic River's chances at a 2016 double went by the wayside at the end of a close Quarterfinal with Old Blue. Bird's conversion of a 14th-minute try proved to be the difference in a 19-17 final, though Mystic River did have one last opportunity with ball in hand from a restart.
The top seeds coming out of pool play all advance to Sunday's Semifinals, with Chicago and Kansas City opening the Cup Semifinals at noon MT followed by Rugby Utah's date with Old Blue. All matches will be streamed live on The Rugby Channel at no cost.