|Stony Brook beating Texas in Las Vegas. Numina photo|
The final qualifying tournament for the inaugural USA Rugby college 7s national championship is being hosted Saturday by Stony Brook in Long Island, NY. All Empire Conference teams are expected to be in attendance, except for Syracuse and Buffalo, and Navy, American International College, Temple and Albany are the non-Empire teams slated to compete.
The field will be broken into four pools of three with the top eight at the end of pool play advancing to quarterfinals.Saturday's champion will earn an automatic bid to the national championships Dec. 16-17 in College Station, Texas.
The host Seawolves are hungry to show off their 7s skills, as Stony Brook is a program that fancies 7s and its abilities in 7s. The Seawolves competed in the Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifier in Las Vegas in February, knocking off Texas and reaching the quarterfinal round. The experience has whetted their appetite.
“Anytime you can play at that level it brings your game up and then you find out where you’re at, and we know that we can play at that level, there’s no doubt about it,” said Stony Brook coach Jerry Mirro. “That’s going to be a huge plus, especially when you have teams like Navy who has the experience of playing in the CRC already.”
Navy is one of Empire 7s’ two teams, the other being Temple, who have played in the CRC. Neither have done particularly well in the competitions, which is part of the reason the Midshipmen have signed up for Saturday’s event.
“I think it’s something that’s necessary for us to do. Let’s face it, our CRC thing hasn’t been as great as it needs to be or should be, as with probably a lot of teams,” said Navy coach Mike Flanagan.
“That’s the venue where you want to go to shine. You want to go to Philly on the national spotlight and play some rugby that makes it look like you know what you’re doing, so I think that’s one of the things we have to do. And that’s the beauty of having a fall non-competitive season, is that we can focus some time on playing a little bit of 7s and have some fun.”
Along with experience playing high-level 7s, Navy will be helped out by the presence of freshman Jack McAuliffe. The former Gonzaga high school star also competed in Las Vegas in February, where he strapped on a high school All American jersey and helped lead the age-grade Eagles to a tournament championship over Canadian talent.
If Navy wins Saturday, coach Mike Flanagan is unsure if the Midshipmen will be able to attend the national championships.
“That’s a university issue. I’m not convinced that’s something the Academy’s going to want to do,” he said. “I’m not sold on the timing of that. That’s something I’ve always wanted – a fall 7s culminating in a championship and spring 15s – but I think the timing of that could be prohibitive for us, frankly, but we’ll see.”
If Stony Brook wins, the Seawolves will gladly accept their bid, Mirro said.