When old man winter rolls in and covers the pitch with snow, it generally signifies the end of another rugby season for teams across the Northeast. With conference matches being played in the fall and national championship qualifiers decided by Thanksgiving, most teams shift their sights towards friendly matches for development through the spring.
This year, however, the forecast held something decidedly more promising for teams looking to incorporate sevens into their programs.
USA Rugby's first ever Collegiate Sevens National Championship in December left many teams hungry for more, but unsure how to make it happen, particularly on the heels of their competitive fifteens seasons.
Fortunately, sports performance and team conditioning specialist Universal Sports was equally eager to make more sevens available throughout the region, and with the very generous sponsorship of team apparel suppliers Rugby Ink, the Collegiate 7s Circuit was born.
Two participating universities and Super League Boston RFC served as hosts for the three-tournament series modeled after the IRB Sevens Circuit, such that teams were ranked according to their final seeding in each competition and earned points to create their standings amongst other circuit teams.
The competition's inaugural season tested the talent of teams like Dartmouth, Harvard, Boston College, Northeastern and Norwich. New Hampshire (UNH), UConn, Albany and American International College (AIC) participated in each installment of the three-tournament series, earning the opportunity to compete for the title of Circuit Champions.
Kicking things off March 31, UNH played host to the three other circuit teams as well as Norwich and Dartmouth, who entered four sides. Despite cool and cloudy conditions, the reigning USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship title holders swept the competition to earn that day's Cup, positioning AIC as runners-up.
The second stop of the tour was Albany, where Boston College joined the April 14 roster. After a great day of action, AIC trumped Boston College in the final to take a comfortable lead in the circuit. With two events behind them, UNH overtook Albany in a tight race for second while UConn showed improvements with every match.
Boston RFC capitalized on a bye week in their season and welcomed Northeastern, Dartmouth, Harvard, Boston College and all four circuit teams into downtown Boston for the final event on April 21.
There were some very close contests throughout the day, but the four circuit teams eventually found their way to the cup semifinals. It was an underdog story for UConn, who had yet to reach their full potential throughout the previous competitions, but defeated Albany and advanced to the final after winding up on the losing side of that same matchup just hours earlier.
AIC, who showed their strength and depth all day, knocked off UNH to return to their third championship match of the circuit. With size and pace in their favor, AIC ran their way to a 33-0 victory, earning both Cup Champion and Circuit Champion honors.
AIC Head Coach Josh Macy noted his appreciation for the unique atmosphere created by the circuit's competitive structure.
"Seeing the same teams week in and out lets you incubate solid relationships with teams," he said.
"The time between games, the changes in status from week to week and the corporal and individual rivalries formed make a sevens series an ideal way to spend a semester."
Universal Sports also expressed satisfaction with the circuit experience.
"This has been a fantastic journey," said owner Justin Goonan.
"We're proud to have been able to bring this competition structure to the region's college teams and have really enjoyed watching the schools develop with every individual event. There is definitely a demand for more opportunities like this one, so we hope we have demonstrated a model that can be replicated by other conferences and schools across the country.”