No team has reached 7s Nationals more than the Denver Barbarians. Upon winning Denver 7s Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the Barbos have now qualified for Nationals 19 of the 27 years there’s been a 7s National Championship and a staggering 12 years in a row.
Denver’s 12-year streak of reaching the National Championships is an unprecedented hallmark of consistency reminiscent of the Atlanta Braves’ 14-consecutive division titles from 1995-2004.
“That’s always a standard here in Denver,” said first-year Barbos coach Mark Bokhoven of qualifying for Nationals. “We expect to be contenders in the West every year.”
The glaring difference between the Braves’ and Barbos’ streaks? The Braves won a World Series in 1995. The Barbarians have never claimed a 7s National Title. Denver has lost in the National final five times, the semifinals six times and finished in the top eight 17 times.
Historically, the Barbos have been consistently good, but not great. This year’s team will try to buck the trend and return from San Francisco next month with hardware.
To do so, they’re going to implement a recipe that mixes veteran leadership and youthful exuberance. Maximo DeAchaval, Ben Haapapuro, Taylor Howden and senior player Jake Humphrey have been to Nationals plenty. They’ll lead an otherwise inexperienced flock.
“This team’s good. This team’s really young. A lot of guys haven’t played a lot of 7s,” said Bokhoven. “This team doesn’t know what to expect when they get there, and that’s a good thing.”
The Barbos’ run at Nationals last year was an unforgettable one. They went 1-2 on day one, beating OMBAC and losing to the Youngbloodz and Schuylkill River, albeit by a combined nine points. Denver then went 1-2 on day two, beating the Pittsburgh Harlequins and losing to SFGG and Atlanta Old White en route to 12th place.
“Last year was a different team, different circumstances and different coaching,” said Bokhoven. “This year we’re going out with a team that’s got a lot of young guys taking on the world.”
Those young guys aren’t a handicap. Howden, 25, is relatively young and will be making his fourth trip to Nationals with his third different team. He was one of the pillars of Belmont Shore’s title run last summer and had previously helped Glendale get to Treasure Island.
Hunter Leland, in his second summer after graduating from Texas A&M, where he was an All American center, is also new to the Barbos 7s team this summer. He played on a very talented, yet under performing, Dallas Harlequins team last summer. Plugged into a more organized Denver squad, Leland has excelled and given the Barbos some much needed pace and explosiveness.
Kyle Hitt is another newcomer. The former Northern Colorado standout runs with a chip on his shoulder and is good in contact. He leads a trio of fresh college faces, which includes Brendan Cox (Colorado) and Bobby Impson (Oklahoma) that has given the Barbos a jolt of energy, athleticism and depth.
With a melding of experience and youth, an influx of sheer athleticism (highlighted largely by the acquisitions of Leland and Howden) and a new coach, will 2012 be the year the Barbarians leave with the groom?