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The West’s two seeds to Nationals will be decided
Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver, Colo. Four teams remain
in the hunt, and four more teams are in the qualifier tournament to try and
spoil someone’s day.
The Denver Barbarians, Woodlands Exiles, Glendale Raptors and Kansas City Blues are all still in the running. Denver leads the pack with seven points, and everyone else is in contention is tied with six.
The most likely spoiler is Aspen. They’ve been threatening and competitive every tournament so far, but nipped before bagging any points. They’re not happy they don’t have a chance to qualify for Nationals and would relish ruining someone else’s season. They’re in the pool of death with Denver, the Woodlands Exiles and the St. Louis Ramblers.
The other pool consists of the Blues, Raptors, Kansas City Rogues and Denver’s b-side. The Rogues have managed just one win at each of the two previous qualifiers, but remain a threat to knock someone off as do the Barbos’ seconds.
The top two teams from each pool advance to the semifinals. Essentially, the two teams still in contention that finish the highest in Denver will advance to Nationals. But, if Aspen or another team out of contention makes the final, it could get a little complicated, because the Barbos have a one-point lead over the rest of the contenders.
If the Barbos finish fourth and a team out of contention finishes first or second, the Barbos would tie the third-place team, if it’s one of the four still with a chance, in series points. In which case, the tiebreakers are as follows: head-to-head (wins vs. losses), head-to-head point differential, gross points scored in all qualifiers, net scored points in all qualifiers and coin flip.
The Barbos, in addition to playing at home, will be helped out by the addition of Ben Haapapuro, who will play his first qualifier this season on Saturday. Haapapuro has been a big part of Denver’s team for years, and he was missed in Kansas City, when the Blues’ Kevin Schwartze stole Barbarian restarts during their semifinal defeat of Denver.
Tall and athletic, Haapapuro excels in gathering restarts. He and kicker Maximo DeAchaval have great chemistry on kickoffs, which has proven to be one of Denver’s best weapons in recent years. He helps the Barbos tremendously, as they are still learning to play with Mark Bokhoven on the sideline instead of the field.
Jake Humphrey also returns to the Denver lineup after missing the Kansas City tournament.
The Blues go to Denver riding wins on back-to-back weekends. They won their qualifier in Kansas City and went to Tulsa last weekend and claimed the Parrothead 7s title. The Blues are not lacking confidence and have a mixture of young talent that’s maturing at the right time. The club could be poised to make its first appearance at 7s Nationals in years.
The Woodlands Exiles, unlike Denver, Kansas City and Glendale, are a group of guys largely playing their first summer together. They have had starkly different lineups in Houston and Kansas City and hope to put it all together this weekend.
Canada 7s player Sean Ferguson rejoins the team after missing the Kansas City tournament, where his speed was missed. Also possibly joining the Exiles is Danie Swanepoel of Arkansas State. He has been battling a hamstring injury, but may be available Saturday. If he is, with Ferguson also on board, the Exiles figure to be much faster in Denver than in the previous two qualifiers.
If Glendale qualifies for Nationals, they’ll be one of the stories of the summer. The amount of injuries and defections they suffered just prior to the start of the 7s season is still noteworthy, yet they’ve rallied and could well make it back to Nationals playing better than they were this time last season.
Dewon Reed and Bradley Winbush have embraced leadership roles more than ever before, and big Justin Pauga has done better on the 7s pitch than expected. He’s among the toughest loads in the West to bring down when he gets a couple steps, and that’s created running room for teammates like U20 star Iniki Fa’amausili.
Denver Barbos B