Pool C is a pick’em pool. Air Force, Lindenwood and San Diego State all seem to have a chance to win it, and Arkansas is a wildcard, but will likely not threaten for the Cup Quarterfinals.
Air Force turned heads with an early tournament win in Provo, Utah, earning a bid to Nationals while beating BYU. SDSU has been competitive in a number of tournaments and showed improvement in finishing second to St. Mary’s in its last event. Lindenwood has struggled to get all of its top-line players on the field at once, but has won some scalps and come close to knocking off National Champion Arkansas State. Arkansas, on the other hand, played one tournament way back in September and has otherwise been playing 15s.
Pat’s Picks: The most talented team is Lindenwood. Morgan Findlay, though hobbled with a groin injury all fall, is the best player in the pool and one of the best in the tournament. Sebastian Kalm, Tyler Black and Kolton Nelson are all really, really solid guys who’d start for any other team, too, and Mickey Bateman might be better than all three of them. The Lions aren’t fully healthy, but I think they finish first. As for second, it’s a toss up. I don’t expect Air Force to lay an egg like last year, but SDSU has played more tournaments against better competition, so I give the Aztecs the nod. The Zoomies will be too much for injury-riddled Arkansas, who I pick to finish last in this pool.
Players to watch: You just read about them. Morgan Findlay is very explosive, elusive, slippery and powerful, and he as great skills. Sebastian Kalm and Tyler Black you’ll read more on in a minute. Mickey Bateman is a small, but very skilled scrumhalf from New Zealand. He plays tougher than you might imagine from a guy his size.
Q&A with coach Ron Laszewski
Q: Sebastian and Tyler. They’re not the biggest forwards, but they’re scrappers. What do you like about them?
A:They tick all the boxes. Neither one of them is 6-5 and this great aerial guy. They’re pretty decent in the air, but with their speed and tackling ability, they’re assets for us for sure.
Q: You guys went 1-1 against SDSU last year and just barely missed the Cup Quarterfinals. How do you like your chances to break into the Top 8 this year?
A: We’re just kind of doing our thing. We’re not too worried about the name of the opponent. If we handle our business, it’ll take care of itself…It’s not a big target for us. We’re going to do our thing, man. And if it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If it’s not, we’ll work harder.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Players to watch: Ollie Cregg is a fast guy on the wing who has cut his teeth and won a 7s National Championship with Belmont Shore. Very dangerous on attack. Matt Hayter is their playmaker at first receiver. Jake Poliakoff played for the USA Maccabiah team that won Gold at the Maccabiah Games and is a physical force coming off the bench.
Q&A with coach Alex Lichtig
Q: What would you say is your team’s calling card?
A: We don't have a lot of stars. We are a team that will need all 12 players to play their best this weekend. Everybody has to contribute. We don't rely on any one style of play - speed or size or anything. What works for us is to keep moving the ball, looking for space, and exploiting space when it comes.
Q: You had some so-so results at the beginning of the season, but finished pretty well. What was the difference?
A: This fall we started real slow. We had some new players and guys coming back from injury and it just took us a while. But we've started to come together at the right time. The guys worked hard, came together as a group, and continue to improve.
Q: What have been your biggest areas of improvement?
A: I think the thing that took the longest was our attack. We were just kind of tentative, and we finally came to the realization of what misdirection we want to use and when we want to integrate it into our attack. I feel like that is coming together nicely now.
Players to watch: Jack Bristol, Eric Schreck, Joe Rippe. Bristol will likely be the tallest player at Nationals, and as such excels in offloading in contact. He’s a match-up problem for anyone. Schreck is a hard-charging runner, and Rippe is more of a smooth glider.
Q&A with coach Joe Muehlbauer
Q: What was your initial reaction when you saw your pool?
A: I think we got a tough draw. I think Lindenwood and San Diego State, they’re top teams in the country and Arkansas gave us fits last time we played them, so I don’t think it’s going to be easy by any stretch. I think we can win our pool. I have that confidence, but it’s going to be tough.
Q: You guys came into this tournament high on the hog last year, but went winless. How often is that discussed? Is there added motivation to prevent a repeat performance?
A: It’s not something we talk about all the time. We’ve talked about it a few times, and I’m sure the guys talk about it more often when I’m not around, maybe. The guys who made that trip were embarrassed, as I was, because we had a really good team last year and we need to not let that happen. We got outmuscled last year. Not better athletes, not better 7s players, not better strategy, and I think we’ve rectified that and come to grips with that and become more physical 7s wise, which is a fine line. I think we’re right where we need to be, but it’s not something we talk about a lot. No one wants to feel that embarrassment and pain.
Players to watch: Corey jones, Kyle Smith, Tim Hanify. Jones is the most athletic, explosive athlete the Razorbacks have. He’s their homerun hitter. Smith and Hanify are small but crafty players with some pretty good 7s experience. Smith has been playing in the summer with the Kansas City Blues for the last couple of years. Though he’s not broken into their West qualifier side, he knows what he’s doing on the 7s pitch. Hanify is a diminutive guy, but very quick. He’s actually played in a men’s club National Championship game before. It was DIII, but a National Championship game nonetheless.
Q&A with captain Ryan Ellison
Q: What’s different about your team this time versus 2011, when you made it to Nationals?
A: I think we’re more prepared than the last time we went. The last time we went we got an at-large bid two weeks before the tournament, and we hadn’t been practicing 7s at all. So we hadn’t played 7s in like two months. We’re definitely a lot more prepared as a team unit going into this tournament.
Q: How is your depth? Two day tournaments can be tough, especially at the end of a long 15s season, like you have just played.
A: We’re coming to this tournament with 11 guys, because we’ve just been plagued with injuries. We had a starter tear his ACL playing touch a couple of weeks ago. I’m nursing an injury, and one of our props is nursing an injury, but we’re just sucking it up and being rugby players.