Is this where we say "we're all winners!"
You know I won't do that.
OK, after all the previews, talk, profiles, articles about bands, articles about friends, articles about launch parties … it’s here.
The USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship will kick off Saturday morning in front of thousands of fans at PPL Park in Philadelphia, and on NBC. The tournament itself has been debated hotly, as some would argue it doesn’t represent the best group of college 7s teams in the nation.
Most likely true – some very strong 7s teams have not been invited simply because they can’t be guaranteed to bring fans to the event – USA 7s (which owns RUGBYMag) is a business, after all. But consider also that USA Rugby’s fledgling national championship last fall didn’t have all the best teams, too.
The big connection for all of these is Life University. Life won USA Rugby’s championship. The Running Eagles then went on to win the Las Vegas Invitational Qualifier. The school, little-known in sports circles outside of rugby, has a huge chance to get known by competing in the CRC, and will do so to the best of their ability. They have an outstanding program, exciting, talented players, and a well-spoken, intelligent coaching staff.
Can they win it all? You bet they can. They have speed (Darrian Woodson), kicking skills (Joe Cowley), shiftiness (Colton Cariaga), defense (Paul Bester), and power (Cameron Dolan). A terrific combination.
We figure Penn State to be improved over last year and a tough team, but Life should win Pool A.
But is it time to crown Life champions right now? Certainly not. They are beatable.
In Pool B you probably have the most competitive pool, top to bottom. Every team in the group is quite strong, and the two best, Dartmouth and Delaware, are really, really good. Delaware has players like Chris Mullen, Pat Mullarkey, Pat Goldring, and Jimmy Kowalski. They can run, they can play good team defense, and they can hit. This is a superb chance for the country to see what Delaware rugby is all about.
But I like Dartmouth for this pool. I think they learned how to win last year – eking out a couple of victories early. They have complete buy-in by the players. With Paul Jarvis and Nate Brakeley in the forwards Dartmouth is a possession machine. In the backs, Derek Fish and Madison Hughes form a ghost-like combination. You think you have them, then you don’t. They’ve also got a couple of secret weapons, as they did last year. Head Coach Alex Magleby, who is as tactically astute as any coach in the game, is also happy to recruit from other sports. Pat Flynn was a varsity lacrosse player for Dartmouth. David Turnbull was, until recently, an outfielder for their baseball team.
Do you know what they will do? No. But that’s part of the attraction.
In Pool C, Arizona really, really wants this. The Wildcats felt they had a great shot to win it last year, and faltered at just the wrong moment. Peter Tiberio returns to the team after training with the Olympic program (commenters who complain that somehow Tiberio is a pro ringer might do well to look at all the other Olympians who return to their colleges to compete in varsity athletics). He’s not the only player on the squad. We really like Cody Naber and playmaker Kyle Thompson. And Brett Thompson is a force ready to really explode.
Look also at their coaching staff. Dave Sitton, Emil Signes and Chris Kron is a trio that has this team covered emotionally, technically, and tactically.
The other teams in this pool – NC State, Texas, Oklahoma – have great ability, but Arizona seems to have just a little bit more.
And in Pool D, remember that Army made the final last year. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who have some Eagle coaching and crossover talent of their own, have been in town all week. Navy, led by Seamus Seifring and Jack McAuliffe, could run the table if things run right for them. But … well there’s Cal. Cal this year is not the all-conquering powerhouse we have come to expect. They are very young, and with them not playing a championship season, they flew a little off the radar screen. But here’s the thing, forget about Seamus Kelly and Danny Barrett, blah blah blah, we’ve heard it before how good they are. The supporting cast, if you want to call it that, is very strong.
Jake Anderson, a big, powerful young fullback in 15s, could be the breakout player of this tournament. Alex Aronson is a smart reader of the game, and Brad Harrington is a wall of power up front. Combine with this the fact that this IS Cal’s championship. They have been thinking CRC since mid-April. They have been training CRC since mid-April.
A year ago, the team seemed cooked after a long season that culminated in a D1-A championship. This year, if you get to go into their locker room or see them before the tournament, you will see a team that is hungry. Very hungry.
So that leaves us with this in the quarterfinals
Life v. Delaware
Dartmouth v. somebody (probably Penn State but maybe Wisconsin or Temple)
Arizona v. somebody (we think it might be Navy, but could be Army or Notre Dame)
Cal v. somebody (can’t pick from NC State, Texas or the Sooners).
If our picks hold on, it looks then like Life v. Arizona (!) and Cal v. Dartmouth (!).
NBC will love that. In the end I think I like Dartmouth for this again, but it really could be any of these.
Dark Horse has to be Delaware, with Navy a close second.
Challenge winner? Either Army or Navy will be relegated to the Challenger bracket, and which team is, then I pick them.
Or Notre Dame.
Hmm … this was harder than I thought.