Alex Ross being tackled: a rare scene. Dobson Images
Schuylkill passing. Dobson Images
Ed Pitts evading a tackler. Dobson Images
Shalom Suniula was awarded MVP by Al Caravelli
Belmont Shore, which won the semifinals and quarterfinals by a score each, got back to dominating in the cup final, beating Schuylkill River 37-14 to claim their second national 7s title in three years.
Their first score was the result of a quick-tap penalty just shy of Schuylkill’s try line. Taylor Howden touched it down, and Shalom Suniula converted.
Belmont didn’t wait long to score again, stealing the ensuing kickoff and swinging the ball wide to Justin Boyd, who raced to pay dirt.
Perhaps more consequential than the try itself was Schuylkill’s loss of Greg Ambrogi, who subbed out after the score. Ambrogi was Schuylkill River’s most potent weapon, but he suffered a shoulder injury while making a heroic tackle in the narrow semifinal win over Utah. He attempted to go in the final, but lasted less than two minutes.
“We’re a team of 12, but to lose that kind of speed and cutting and finishing ability, it’s tough to replace,” Schuylkill coach Chris Ryan said.
“In my opinion he’s the hardest player to bring down in the country, and what does that tell you?” pondered teammate Will Knipscher. “Having him out on the field, you get used to it, and when he’s not there…”
Howden stole the restart and appeared to score Belmont’s third try in less than as many minutes, but he was forced slightly into touch before dotting it down, giving Schuylkill River, for the first time all game, a meaningful possession.
Once they breached the midway point, Belmont was pinged for a penalty, and Dan Wright chipped a kick past the aggressive Belmont defense and tracked it down for Schuylkill’s first score, putting them down five, once converted, at 12-7.
Howden was yellow-carded shortly after the restart for a dump tackle, but Schuylkill River failed to capitalize, and Belmont poured in two more tries before the half and 25-consecutive points altogether, putting the game well out of reach.
Their offense was impressive, but what stuck out in the mind of Schuylkill River was Belmont's defense.
“They were incredibly physical, really aggressive on defense, and I’d like to credit them for scouting us out there,” said Knipchser. “We like to move the ball wide, and they came up real hard and wouldn’t let us do it. They put us on our heels the whole game.”
The win was a team effort for Belmont, as five players scored tries.
“It was a huge team win. I think the good thing about Belmont is that everybody is pretty close-knit off the field. We all kind of do things together off the field, and the spirits just get kept high. There’s no kind of negative talk in the club. If someone drops a ball or makes a forward pass or gets a yellow card in the final,“ said Howden, who got a yellow card in the final, “people pick you up, and they’re always positive, so it’s always good.”
Belmont Shore was a selfless club all tournament. Although Alex Ross scored a bevy of tries, almost the entire 12-man roster scored on the weekend, and all three subs were used in seemingly every match. How does a team like Belmont, which features few guys who play 15s together or spend more than a couple weeks a summer with each other, foster that kind of play?
“I think it's hard to put a name on it. We believe in a spirit of openness at the club. I tell the guys exactly where they stand at all times. We encourage open communication, and the guys buy into the system,” said Belmont coach James Walker.
“In a game like the Youngbloodz (the semifinal which Belmont narrowly won on the last play), where one or two guys feel like they have to make a statement, that’s when the system breaks down. The guys know, they can see it, it’s patently obvious, when you play in a system you walk over people, when you break that system, you don’t.
Walker accredits a lot of the team humility and togetherness to the work of Matt Hawkins, who spent this summer doing more coaching for Belmont than playing. So does Howden.
“You’ve got to respect your teammates, and that’s something we kind of instill in the boys. Hawkins has done quite a good job of that, just making sure you respect your teammates and they have respect for you as well,” he said.
“We’re a team at the end of the day. We’re not just a star-studded cast. We’re a team.”
The semifinal against the Youngbloodz was one of the tournament's most compelling. Another was Belmont's 14-7 win over the Chicago Lions, which took a late Ross try to win. Walker says the rivalry Belmont has with Chicago, and what that quarterfinal took out of the team, had a lot to do with the score of the Youngbloodz game.
"We just really geared ourselves up for Chicago. We have so much respect for those guys, and we knew it was going to be a nail biter, so there was a lot of emotional investment in that game, and it’s very difficult not to let down the next game after that. Unfortunately, that’s what almost happened, but luckily there was enough experience and calms heads out there to get us through."
The semifinal round was a big one for the runners-up as well.
"We put three tries on Utah, and we were winning by two tries and one conversion, and I thought, 'Well, you know we can win this one,' because we saw Utah as a great team, and being able to handle them and get past them, that’s the boost that I needed," said Knipscher. "In my mind, that’s when I felt really confident we had a chance to win this whole tournament."
Schuylkill River fell one game short of Knipscher's vision, but while disappointed in the outcome of the final, the Mid-Atlantic champs are flying back to Pennsylvania happy.
“It’s bittersweet. We’d like to be one place higher, but to finish second when nobody’s expecting you to finish higher than 10th isn’t bad,” Ryan said.
“It feels really good to be able to represent MARFU like that,“ added Knipshcer. “It’s a good feeling.”
7s Eagle Justin Boyd scored several tries for Belmont Shore at Nationals, and we caught up with him after the finals win. He mentions that the interviewer, Pat Clifton, picked Belmont Shore to win the national title.
The Berkeley All Blues are the first Women's Club 7s champions, beating the Boston Belles 36-0 in the final. The one-sided affair capped off a dominating day of play, one that began with wins over Glendale in the quarterfinals and DC Furies in the semis.
Berkeley exited day one as the second seed in pool A, having beat Belmont Shore and Philadelphia, and tied Boston Belles and NOVA. "Our games against the Belles and NOVA were our hardest of the weekend," said former Belles coach Brandon Sparks, who now shares Berkeley 7s coaching duties with former Eagle Laura Cabrera. "We were leading by two tries and the Belles evened it up in the last minute. Against NOVA, we had to play from behind - something we hadn't done most of the summer, so we learned a lot from those two matches."
Pool play was a learning experience for Berkeley. Coaches experimented with player combinations, while athletes banked some important lessons that would aid their run to the title the following day. During the film and skills sessions, the coaches sat back as the players internalized those lessons and began coaching themselves.
"They started identifying what mistakes they made themselves," Sparks said of the film session. "That's when you know they've hit the next level - identifying mistakes in the system without us pointing it out to them. A lot of credit has to go to the players for the adjustments that were made for Sunday."
The transition realized itself on the field today, and the All Blues got a second shot at rectifying one of its ties from pool play. One-sided affairs saw them line up against Sparks' former team, and as a coach, that was a difficult situation.
"The final was very hard," Sparks reflected. "I helped create the Belles last year with Kelly Seary, Katie Dowty and Emilie Bydwell. I had hand-picked many of the players last year, so it was like playing your child. You have to give it to Bydwell, Searly and Emily Malkin, who not only stepped up and led from the front, but also acted as coaches. Bydwell was especially phenomenal. She was playing with a broken hand and sacrificed everything."
The Belles had a difficult road to the final, having exited Saturday as the third seed in their pool. They knocked off last year's finalist, San Diego Surfers, before eliminating NOVA (while a man down) in the semis.
The All Blues were running at full throttle, defeating Glendale and the DC Furies to advance to the championship. Kelly Griffin and Nathalie Marchino were the go-to playmakers, who "attacked everything and went hard from the first whistle on Saturday to the last whistle on Sunday," according to Sparks, who also tipped his cap to role players Liz Terry and Phoebe Boone.
"I give special credit to Phoebe, who does all the those little things that the casual fan wouldn't notice, but that sway the game and control possession," Sparks said. "She was contesting rucks, poaching the ball, making the right call in the scrum. She has a very high workrate, does a lot of stuff off the ball like organizing defense and marking up. Her defense is solid and her attack is developing well. She scored two tries in the final."
Sparks also noted Irene Gardner's performance. "After this weekend, Irene definitely deserves a look from national coaches," Sparks said. "She was up against some tough opposition, but was side-stepping, running dynamic angles - all the things you look for."
Sparks has been fortunate working with the All Blues, which corales the region's best athletes and showcased a number of national team players. The coach synced well with Cabrera, a longtime All Blues player and coach, and her knowledge of the team's personnel complimented their leadership and has grown the team's summer 7s program. In the past, Berkeley has played 7s socially, but this summer saw upward of 30 women at every training and lured even more young talent to the team.
"Maricel Quirindongo-Crespo is one of several young, talented players from the [University of] California, which has really shown up in force," Sparks said. "We started her against DC because of her speed and attacking talent, but she hasn't really faced players of the caliber of Ida Bernstein. Previous to the match, Nathalie [Marchino] was talking about how wings don't stiffarm enough. And then Maricel laid this huge stiffarm against Ida in the middle of the field."
Sparks is confident that this experience will only enrich the All Blues' 7s program, especially since East Coast college players interning in the area are gravitating toward the club for 7s instruction. And now that women's club 7s has an official event to rally around, the standard of play can only improve.
"This year's event was well respected, and USA Rugby did a lot to develop women's 7s," Sparks said. "More could have been done, but this was the first event, so you can't criticize too harshly about the mistakes that were made [on the organizational side]. All of the teams came well prepared, and there was some first-class, champagne rugby displayed from everyone - even from the last-place team."
James Madison and UW-Whitewater will take each other on Sunday at 10:30AM ET in USA Rugby's DII 3rd/4th consolation game.The game is livestreamed below or here on RUGBYMag's YouTube channel. Read more...
The ACRA Women's DII championship game between Notre Dame College and Winona State starts Noon on Sunday, Dec 8, 2013.It will be live webstreamed below or on RUGBYMag.com's Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/RUGBYMagazine1 Read more...
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