Club 7s Preview: Women's Pool D

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Pool D in the women’s bracket of the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships will not be the most experienced group competing at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo., but there are still a few heavy hitters in the pool capable of making a deep run this weekend.

Oregon Sports Union has reached multiple Cup Quarterfinals at Nationals, and although the Scion Sirens have yet to do so themselves, the academy squad has been one of the top teams all summer. Orlando returns to Club 7s stronger for its Championship appearance last summer, and the Tempe Ninjas hope to surprise the field at Nationals in the team’s first crack at a Club 7s National Championship.

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The Scion Sirens have been nearly untouchable during the Mid-Atlantic qualifying rounds. Aside from a split of first place with Northern Virginia Rugby at Slug 7s due to a lightning storm preventing the title match from being played, Scion took top prize in each of the region’s qualifying tournaments.

The Sirens, a select side made up of athletes training at Scion’s National Development Academy in Washington, D.C., are a young squad. Half of the team was playing college rugby this past year for schools such as Brown University, Central Washington University, and James Madison University. Although many athletes training with Scion lack experience at the club level, a host of Eagles make up for their teammates’ inexperience.

Stacey Bridges, Sam Pankey, and Kimber Rozier were apart of the 2014 Women’s World Cup team that traveled to France, and most recently played a part for the Eagles earlier this summer at the Women’s Rugby Super Series. The three internationals bring a dimension of skill and toughness incapable of being matched by most teams preparing to compete for a National Championship in Colorado.

The three-match Super Series in Salt Lake City forced the capped trio to miss sevens duties with Scion, but opened leadership opportunities for talented players like Abby Gustaitis. Now fully equipped with their academy leaders and young up-and-comers, the Sirens have their eyes on a Cup Final run.

Oregon Sports Union might have missed out on last year’s Club 7s National Championships, but the Women’s Premier League side did reach the Cup Quarterfinals in both 2013 and 2014.

Simply qualifying for Nationals out of a Pacific North region is a daunting task. Just ask Life West Gladiatrix. The 2016 Women’s Division II National Champions will be forced to watch Club 7s from home this year after placing fourth in the region.

ORSU not only qualified for Nationals, but did so ahead of a Berkeley All Blues team that takes the No. 2 Pacific North seed and also earned a scalp of the region’s No. 1 seed. At the finals of the July 9 Can-Am 7s, ORSU upset Seattle Saracens and set the club’s standard for the rest of the summer.

One look at ORSU’s roster and it is no surprise the Pacific Northwesterners are not only returning to Club 7s Nationals, but have a chance to progress into Day Two. Former Eagles San Juanita Moreno and Beckett Royce still impact games the way few others can, and Anna Symonds continues to be one of the better midfield ball runners in the country.

The Tempe Ninjas, a summer sevens side made up mostly of players who play their 15s rugby with the Tempe Old Devils Women’s team, qualified for their first Club 7s National Championships behind San Diego Surfers for the Pacific South’s No. 2 seed. The timing of the Ninjas’ first Nationals qualification is a bit surprising. After a promising start to its 15s campaign playing out of Southern California’s Division I competition, Tempe dropped its final four games down the stretch and missed playoffs.

The program has regrouped well, however, for the summer. Thanks to dangerous line breakers Raji Gaines, Tiyana Taumanu, and Kanausha Thompson, as well as a physical presence from Ashley Christopher and Kristyn Foster, the Ninjas not only find themselves competing on the national stage, but expect to perform well once they take the field at Dick’s Sporting Good Park.

Orlando Rugby was able to earn two victories at the 2015 Club 7s Nationals – the program’s first appearance at the championship event. The outcome could have been far worse for a team taking its first shot at Nationals, but when Orlando was matched up against seasoned veterans like Northern Virginia and the San Diego Surfers it could not quite keep pace.

The South region champions hope to change all of that. After a first-place finish in 15s this past spring, Orlando brings back more than half of its National Championship roster in sevens from last summer to try and out-do its 2015 results. Included in the group of returnees is Jessica Warner. The 20-year old winger, who plays her 15s for University of Central Florida, paced Orlando with five tries at last year’s Club 7s Nationals.

The 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships will take place Aug. 13-14 at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo. Every one of the 96 matches at Club 7s will be available to watch free of charge on The Rugby Channel.