Union has been here before. The Tulsa boys’ team competed in last year’s High School 7s Challenge and lost a heart-breaker to Pride, the eventual champions.
“Pride swept everybody last year,” Union captain David Todd said. “We lost by two points and had a last-minute try that was held up. Pride drew a target on their backs last year, knocking us out of the tournament, so we’re coming to take it.”
Union doesn’t play much 7s – in fact the HS Challenge and one other Tulsa tournament are the only two the high school team plays. But when they returned from Philadelphia last year, that loss to Pride weighing heavy on their memory, they drummed up some serious interest in 7s.
“When we told everyone around Tulsa that we went to the national championship, 35 guys showed up to training,” Todd said. “That’s the largest we’ve ever been in school history. Everyone wanted to get involved.”
Union has a cast of solid seniors leading the build-up to this tournament. Todd is joined by fellow All American Joseph Kelly; Brandon Berg, a converted 15s prop with good wheels for his size; center Cameron Cotton, whose rugby IQ has accepted a scholarship to Lindenwood after only a year of rugby; and Kyle Hardrick, who’s off to the Naval Academy, and leap with the best of them.
“We all bring great assets that compliment the team,” Todd said. “It’s great to have so many leaders who aren’t fighting for leadership but joining together to form a great leading program.”
That leadership was called upon right from kickoff, when Gonzaga and later Sparta pushed Union to shore up their game.
“Our defense wasn’t too sound,” Todd reflected on the team’s earlier matches. “We got out of 15s 10 days ago, so we weren’t use to the slide defense yet. We have a lot of size, so we play more of a man-up defense. I dropped to sweeper to get the whole view and see how the boys slid. It improved throughout the day, and now we’re solid.”
One of the most notable aspects of Union’s game is their physical stature. Like Pride, the Oklahoma side is big, strong and so tough in contact.
“Yes, we’re a sizeable team, and one one has really challenged us in the contact area yet,” Todd said. “But for a big team, we don’t play too much in contact, since we have such skill players. Our game plan depends on how we’re playing, but if they want to hit us, we’ll give them a hit right back.”
That order is sure to follow as Union prepares for the HS Challenge final against Pride tomorrow. The reigning champs repeated last year’s sweep, getting past a wily Charlotte side in the semifinals. The show will go down at 1:20 p.m. EST on Sunday. Stay tuned.