|Wolfpack captain Matt Pace in the final. Kyle O'Donnell photo|
|Dominick Goldstein breaking for score. Kyle O'Donnell photo|
North Carolina State won its second consecutive Atlantic Coast Invitational 7s Championships Sunday in Greensboro, NC, defeating Virginia 24-17 in the tournament final. The Wolfpack jumped out to a 24-5 lead to start the game, and Virginia roared back with 12 unanswered second-half points only to see their comeback bid fall short.
Dominick Goldstein scored two tries for the Wolfpack in the final, rounding out a high-octane weekend performance during which he bagged two hat-tricks in seven games.
Flyhalf Bryan Maxwell, who also dotted down in the final, was awarded tournament MVP.
“Bryan contributed not only as a playmaker, driving the play in, he also helped calm things down,” remarked NC State coach Jim Latham, who said his team was complimented by opposing coaches for having good patience on offense. “Brian’s a senior, he’s a heady player.”
Playing all 98 minutes for the Wolfpack on the weekend was captain and hooker Matt Pace.
“You look at him, he could play 10 more games tomorrow,” gushed Latham. “This guy is unreal. He’s a neat player. He’s a flanker for 7s and a hooker for 15s. He’s a ball hawk.”
NC State won six matches in a row to end the ACI, but started on a cellar-low note, falling 28-7 to Virginia Tech in the tournament’s opening match on Saturday.
“To their credit, it should have been a lot worse. We didn’t play well at all, and they took advantage of every single mistake we made, and we made a bunch,” Latham said of Virginia Tech. “The guys were really down, but we rebounded quickly and just came back.
“They knew they could play better. They won last year, and I think it’s really the preparation. These guys have worked all summer -- we’re doing 15s practice Tuesday and Thursday, we’re doing 7s practice Monday and Wednesday. These guys are holding individual 7am fitness training sessions for the backs. I don’t know that the attendance is that great, but the club leadership is doing these things.”
NC State downed a talented Maryland 22-14 in one semifinal, and Virginia needed extra time to oust Florida State 19-14 in the other. The semifinals were the third games of the day for both the Terps and Seminoles, as they finished in the bottom four of pool play and upset North Carolina and Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals, respectively.
As champs of the ACI, the Wolfpack have punched their ticket to the inaugural USA Rugby 7s collegiate national championship in December. The venue is still undecided. Miami (OH) and Wisconsin have also qualified, having won the Midwest and Big Ten tournaments, respectively.
Two more qualifiers will be decided Saturday, when the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby and Independence conferences crown their champs.
Despite winning the ACI last year, NC State was not extended an invite to the Collegiate Rugby Championship, while rival North Carolina, was. Though Latham conceded his players were disappointed to not be invited to the nationally-televised event, he contends they’re not holding their collective breathe this year.
“We’re just going to stay focused on the team goals of making the club stronger. It sounds a little altruistic and even hokey, but we want to help these guys develop into fine young men, if you will.
“The coaching staff and the guys, we’re all about Wolfpack rugby, and we all want to share that passion we have for Wolfpack rugby with these kids. We’re going to focus on those things, and sometimes things don’t go your way.”