LAFAYETTE, Colo. – One would expect all competitors at a National Championship event to possess the talent and credentials to vie for the Championship itself. 1823 Rugby, Old Blue of New York, Olympic Club, and Schuylkill River Exiles will consider themselves contenders in Pool C at the Aug. 13-14 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships, but only two will reach the Cup round at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Old Blue of New York is one of the most storied clubs in American rugby history, and has one of the most impressive Club 7s records of the men’s field. Two of the club’s 42 Nationals wins have come in Cup Finals (1993 and 2005), while two of its 25 losses have also come in Finals, most recently in the 2014 event in Seattle.
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The club’s prowess is not sevens-specific. With squads across multiple divisions, Old Blue is a perennial trophy threat in the 15s code. A Division III Finals appearance in 2013 and a victory for the DII squad in 2014 seemed to pave way for the club’s success in Seattle. With capped Eagles Nate Augspurger, James Bird, and Luke Hume – as well as an abundance of speed in the likes of Marcus Henderson and Derek Lipscomb – only a last-second Seattle Saracens try kept the club from the “gold medal.”
Last year’s Plate Final victory was little consolation for the club, whose team this year – with Bird and Kirkland in tow – basically ran the Atlantic North. Former Arkansas State University standout and College 7s Dave Sitton Memorial Trophy winner Dylan Carrion can provide an X-factor for Old Blue when called upon, while collegiate teammate and capped Eagle Harry Higgins will shore up the set pieces.
Old Blue made it out of its pool in 2014 at the expense of last year’s fourth-place team, 1823 Rugby. Based out of Columbus, Ohio, 1823 utilizes the facilities of National Development Academy Tiger Rugby and spends the year training specifically for the sevens game. In seven Club 7s appearances, the fourth-place finish in Iowa – where it was the only team to hand Champion Seattle Saracens a loss – was its best.
It will not be surprising to some to hear that Eagle and Olympian Perry Baker wore the 1823 shirt at Club 7s in 2014, not long before he made his World Rugby Sevens Series debut. 1823’s ability to train players in a professional environment and its willingness to take on athletes has also been a factor in the success of the state’s inaugural PRO Rugby team, Ohio Aviators.
Though Baker has not played with 1823 this year, the club has not struggled with finding athletes capable of winning a sevens tournament. Two squads were entered into the Midwest’s Cin City 7s in Cincinnati, with the top side slaughtering the competition to the tune of 141-7 before even reaching the Final, which it won. The club will want to reach the podium in this Olympic year, and it has the athletes and the summer of sevens résumé to make it happen.
Schuylkill River Exiles will be appearing in their seventh Club 7s event since 2009, missing only the 2010 event a year after the sport was introduced to the Olympic Games Program. It has been a hodge-podge of sorts in terms of the team’s results at Nationals, with a runners-up appearance in 2011 the cream of the crop. Last year, the club’s 3-3 record was highlighted by a defeat of KC Blues in pool play to earn a spot in the Cup Quarterfinals, but eventual runners-up Denver Barbarians sent the Exiles to the Plate competition.
The average age of this year’s squad is a youthful 25, with Pat Boyle and Randy Helsman the elder statesmen of the club. Drexel University captain Cody Bukowski has played against some of the better collegiate sevens programs to bring experience in the form of younger legs, as well. Kutztown University and Pennsylvania State University are well represented in the squad of 11, and most players hail from Pennsylvania.
The Exiles have proved throughout the summer that they are for real, taking down DI XVs Champion Mystic River at Slug 7s, one of four Mid-Atlantic qualifiers. Fortunately and unfortunately for Schuylkill River, the tournament was rained out ahead of the Final, but the points gained from that tournament leading into the final qualifier, Monk Vaughn 7s, which it won to claim the Mid-Atlantic’s top seed.
Three clubs from the Golden State are heading out to Colorado this weekend, and Olympic Club is representing the Bay Area all by its lonesome. In 10 Nationals appearances, the club has reached just one Cup Final, and that was back in 2003. Olympic Club has not been to Club 7s since 2012, where the team’s decline on the national stage hit a peak with a 14th-place campaign.
PRO Rugby’s northern Californian teams were buoyed by the work of Olympic Club over the years in producing quality athletes, but the club has also benefitted from the local college programs. Few schools have been more active in graduating Eagles and professional rugby players than University of California, Berkeley, with five Bears playing for O-Club this weekend.
Two of the Cal graduates – Colin Hawley and Rikus Pretorius – have been capped with the Men’s Eagles Sevens on the international Sevens Series, and Hawley was there as recently as the 2012-13 season. Nearby Stanford University also has a representative set to wear the ‘O’ in Jackson Cummings, a freshman walk-on at Stanford in 2010 that took snaps in 41 games during his collegiate career. With the experience of the squad paired with natural athletes, Olympic Club will shed its No. 14-overall-seed title when the whistle blows at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships will take place Aug. 13-14 at Dick’s Sporting Goods 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.