LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The contest to qualify for the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship does not get much tougher than the competition in the Atlantic North. Old Blue’s women’s program’s rise to national power and a number of teams improving their play on the men’s side – with the assistance of Northeast Academy – have the region boiling over with talented squads and individual athletes.
The second half of Atlantic North’s qualification process for the Aug. 12-13 2017 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championship begins Saturday, July 8, at Hell Gate 7s in New York.
Mystic River and Old Blue, the region’s 2016 men’s representatives at Nationals, currently hold the top two spots in the Atlantic North standings after each team earned a first-place finish at the opening two qualifying rounds. Both teams are major players on the national stage, as well, each having Cup Semifinal appearances at Nationals between them the past two summers. Still, New York Athletic Club has reached the Cup Quarterfinals as recently as 2014 and is coming off of a 15s season that saw the club reach the Division I National Championship Final, and Bulldog Rugby out of Connecticut has made strides to compete with the region’s best in recent years.
“Both NYAC and the Bulldogs have shown in the past that they get stronger as the series continues, NYAC especially,” said men’s Atlantic North competition administrator Jerry Mirro. “They are both still in the competition, but they would have to win a tournament and finish in the Cup Finals at least in the final tournament. Let’s remember Mystic and Old Blue are not going away. So yes, they do have the firepower to compete, but the question is will Old Blue and Mystic waver?”
While not as deep as the men’s competition, the battle for the top of the women’s standings is just as intense. Since breaking onto the sevens scene in 2014, Old Blue has reached the Cup Final at Nationals twice. Continued recruitment of some of the East Coat’s best collegiate players has Old Blue in position to be national title contenders for years to come, but New York Rugby Club is the team currently in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic North.
After more than doubling its 2015 win total this past fall on its way to the Women’s Premier League’s Red Conference title, New York Rugby Club has sustained its quality form into the sevens season by taking the top prize at both Monmouth 7s and Newport 7s.
“From a league perspective, it’s pretty great to have two strong programs with two different structures and focus pushing each other,” said Empire Geographic Union 7s administrator and Old Blue half back Rosalie MacGowan. “This is the fourth season that these two clubs have been jockeying back and forth for position as the top sevens club.”
Saturday’s Hell Gate 7s, which found a title sponsor in Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, is the third and final Atlantic North qualifying event in the Empire Division before the region’s July 15 Conference Championship, where Beantown and Boston Rugby are likely to represent the New England Division. The top two teams at the women’s Atlantic North Conference Championship will qualify for the 2017 National Championship event in Minneapolis, Minn. It is possible that both New York Rugby and Old Blue could take those spots, but it will not be easy, especially since Boston Rugby has qualified for Nationals each of the past two years.
The 2017 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship will be held at the National Sports Center in Minneapolis. All 96 matches to be contested at the Aug. 12-13 National Championship event will be broadcast live on The Rugby Channel.