The first of three West 7s qualifiers kicks off Saturday in The Woodlands, Texas at the Alden Bridge Sports Park. 12 teams have signed on to compete, and they’ve been split into four pools of three. Seeding was determined by last year’s results and results from last weekend’s Bloodfest in Austin, Texas.
The Denver Barbarians enter the contest the top seed, having won the West in 2012. The Barbos welcome Mark Bokhoven back for his second year as head coach. Denver will look really familiar in 2013, bringing back guys like Max DeAachaval, Logan Collins, Kyle Hitt, Taylor Howden and Jake Humphrey.
Denver’s big loss, however, is Hunter Leland, who joins The Woodlands Exiles. Leland, a former Texas A&M All American, is a Texas native, and has returned to the Lone Star State.
The Barbos are entering the summer season with less lead-up time than usual, having made the DI Final Four. 7s training began just recently, and some of the stalwarts might miss the first qualifier of the season thanks to the long spring.
The Kansas City Blues are the tournament’s second seed, as they were the second team to represent the West at Nationals in 2012. The Blues return virtually everyone from last year, and they’ve added an academy side full of 18-23 year-olds, which should provide depth and competition at numerous positions.
The Blues are still a young side, with most of their core players being no more than a few years out of college. Kevin Schwartze is good on restarts, Kelly Mercer hangs the ball high for Schwartze to get and orchestrates the attack, and Kenny Scott is depended upon to finish tries on the wing. But there are no superstars on this team. It’s simply a well-oiled team with several nice parts that is starting to play really well together under coach Scott Kramm.
Glendale is back and expected to compete for a Nationals berth. The Malifa brothers are taking time to recover from injuries, so they will not be on the team for Houston, and their status for the rest of the summer is questionable. But Mike Graham, Chad London, Dewon Reed and the Pauga brothers give Glendale a solid base. With the likes of the Paugas, Graham and London, the Raptors will once again be fielding one of the beefiest sides on the West circuit.
Former Sacramento State wide receiver Brett Willis is one of the players who joined Glendale’s Olympic Development Academy, and he should provide more size and pace. Former Notre Dame running back James Aldridge is also with Glendale now, but he’s still a couple of weeks away from recovering from a bone bruise.
The Woodlands Exiles, hosts of this weekend’s qualifier, are another team to keep an eye on. While prized recruits Zac Mizell, Pat Sullivan and Shaun Potgieter are away with the All Americans, the Exiles have plenty of talent left in the cupboard for the opening weekend.
Arkansas State standouts Zinzan Elan-Putick, Steyn Benade and Dale Bates are very good, and Hamish Roberts, Brian Guillen and Hunter Leland give the Exiles an Aggie flare. Roberts and Leland were All Americans at Texas A&M, and Guillen is the only original Exile left on the team.
Also joining the Exiles is Kenneth Hepburn, a massive unit who recently made his debut with the Jamaican National 7s Team in Hong Kong. Hepburn plays prop for HARC in 15s.
This qualifier has a decidedly Texan flavor that it’s not had in the past, despite there being a West qualifier in Texas virtually every season. The Dallas Reds, Dallas Harlequins, Austin Huns, Austin Blacks, H.U.R.T. and Fort Worth are all fielding teams. Kansas City United, an amalgamation of the Kansas City Rogues (who have competed on the qualifier circuit for years now) and DII Kansas City RFC, and the St. Louis Ramblers round out the field.
The top two teams from each pool advance to the Cup Quarterfinals, and the top four finishers bank six, four, two and one series points, respectively.
Kansas City United
Kansas City Blues
The Woodlands Exiles
St. Louis Ramblers