Northern Virginia (NOVA) won its first Mid-Atlantic (MARFU) Qualifier Saturday, showing it’s still a club to be reckoned with in the 7s world.
10 times NOVA has finished in the top four in the country in men's club 7s, but not since 2008. Last season, NOVA endured an uncharacteristically lackluster 7s season, finishing seventh in the Mid-Atlantic while long-time club booster Bill Gardner helped Belmont Shore win a National Championship.
This year, Gardner is back helping NOVA, and former Kenyan National Team player Dan Weku, former Eagle PJ Komongnan and San Francisco Golden Gate and long-time NOVA 7s veteran Toshi Palamo are back on the roster.
Also back helping NOVA is Prince Hill, the fomer NOVA 7s standout turned coach.
“They called me before the end of May and asked if I’d coach. I said sure. It’s a chance for us to get back to when I played, and back when I played we were used to winning. We were accustomed to winning, and we went about it the right way,” said Hill.
“As a coach, I wanted to bring that attitude back to these guys and try to get NOVA back to the winning ways of us being feared when we walk into a tournament. It’s been a process, but it’s a matter of everybody be confident in playing with each other. It’s starting to come along, and hopefully at the right time.”
NOVA hadn’t reached a MARFU qualifier this summer final until Saturday, and Hill credits the recent win to a renewed commitment to defense.
“We’ve been working on our defense a lot more than in those earlier tournaments because of some mistakes we were making in there on defense,” said Hill. “Offensively, we settled down a bit. We were able to make things happen in the time they needed to happen instead of rushing things.”
The result: NOVA turned a 31-10 loss to Schuylkill in Wilmington into a win Saturday in Columbus, Md.
“The top team being talked about was Schuylkill, and until we played them in the final, I hadn’t seen Schuylkill play since I had played, and we didn’t have any problems with Schuylkill,” said Hill.
“I didn’t know anything about them, but because we had lost to them in a tournament previous to this one, I didn’t know if we were going to be able to bounce or back or if we were going to fall to them again just out of nerves.
“I could over hear (Schuylkill) when we were preparing for the game, we were doing the captain’s talk and everything, and I could hear those guys talking and they thought they were going to beat us on fitness, and that didn’t work to well for them,” said Hill.
“Our guys have been working pretty hard on their fitness this summer, and it’s gotten better each week. It showed in the 10-minute halves. All our guys played all 20, or close to all 20, except until the end when we started pulling some guys. It’s a testament to how hard they’ve been working.”
Though NOVA’s big names are Komongnan, Weku and Palamo, the team was anchored by someone else on the weekend -- Tom Francisco. He caught the eye of unbiased onlookers and drew the praise of his own coach.
“He doesn’t make mistakes, he’s very smart with the ball, he’s fit, he looks for work, he moves form side to side on the field,” said Hill.
“When the ball is getting a little sloppy on one side of the field and somehow one of our guys comes out with it and all of a sudden is making a break out of nothing, it’s Tom Francisco. When somebody makes a break against us and we fall down, it’s Tom Francisco cornering and making the tackle or holding the guy up and giving our guys a chance to get back.”
With a tourney win on the books, NOVA will enter Saturday’s MARFU Championships in Norfolk, Va. with more confidence and the expectation of qualifying for Nationals.