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For the fifth consecutive year, the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship will host the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Men’s 7s National Championship. Eight teams will descend upon Philadelphia to crown one of the only true national champions in collegiate rugby.
The NSCRO division, which features schools with full-time male enrollment of under 4500 students, contains hundreds of small colleges across the country. The field has winnowed down to eight schools, with each of the eight competing teams having won a national qualifying tournament (QT) in order to make their way to Philly. Overall, 74 NSCRO teams completed in the 8 QTs, the largest number of teams to participate in the NSCRO qualifiers to date.
The teams will be divided into two groups of four teams:
Pool A: New Mexico Highlands, Colby, Christendom, Wisconsin-Stevens Point
New Mexico Highlands University
The two-time defending NSCRO national champions return to Philadelphia after winning the Tulane 7s. QT It will be a bit of a revamped Vatos side, however, as the team lost a number of seniors including current USA Eagle player Kevon Williams.
The Vatos come into nationals boasting a 31-4 record in 7s this year after having cruised through the competition last season. The Vatos have a great combination of speed and strength and should prove to be a tough team despite the roster turnover.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Stevens Point will be making its first appearance in the NSCRO national finals. The Black and Blood come into the tournament with a 10-1 overall record in 7s. While the team has been trying to reach nationals in 15s for quite some time, it was the first time the team has put time and resources into 7s. The effort has paid dividends.
The Black and Blood like to play a fast style and are led by a solid halfback combination. Kyle Schoen anchors the team at scrumhalf and Logan Szymanski is a dynamic playmaker at flyhalf. Look for these two to make an impact in Philly.
The Wisconsin school captured the Winona 7s QT to qualify for nationals.
The Mules of Colby College will be making their first appearance at the NSCRO 7s finals. After nearly having the program cut from campus in 2013, Colby has rebounded to make the national stage and will be welcoming a rugby specific field to campus next year.
The Maine school is coached by former Samoan international and two-time World Cup participant, Leo Lafaiali’i. Colby is known for being a smaller team but thanks to an experienced coaching staff, is technically superior to a lot of the teams that it plays.
Being an undersized team, the Mules play an up tempo game. Captains Quill Yates and Jack Sears lead by example in all facets of the game, with the former earning NSCRO Tackle of the Year award for his defensive prowess. Along with the captains, Sam Swain brings a little bit of flair and creativity to the team. Aidan Cuyr, who just started playing rugby in January, has turned into an electric force for the Maine school.
Colby took home the Food Bank 7s QT in Plattsburgh, NY, to make its way to nationals.
Christendom College is one of the most fascinating teams to make its way to Philadelphia. The Front Royal Virginia School boasts a male population of 200 students-the smallest in all of NSCRO.
The program was founded in 2006 and became varsity during the 2012 campaign. The team has had some success in 15s but up until this year did not compete in 7s. Due to the size of the student body, the fall had been reserved for soccer, and the spring for rugby. However, in order to align itself with the Cardinal Rugby Conference, which plays its 15s schedule in the fall, the team initially agreed to give up 7s entirely this season.
However, due to the lack of teams competing in 15s in the spring, Christendom was forced to alter its plans. As it turned out, the only competition the Crusaders could find on a particular weekend happened to be a NSCRO national qualifier. The Virginia school ultimately went 4-1, capturing the St. Mary’s College of Maryland qualifier.
The team ran into some roadblocks but was ultimately cleared to come to nationals. The Crusaders are led by sweeper Derek Casey and the elusive Joey Kuplack. Brothers Joe and Mike McMahon add a nice balance of power and finesse to a pretty well rounded team.
Pool B: St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Babson, Duke, Solano Community College
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
The Seahawks return to the national championships after shocking the field in route to a second place finish in 2016. The Maryland school ran into the buzz saw that was the New Mexico Highlands in the final.
If not for a bit of luck, the Seahawks would not have even been at the tournament last year. A cancelled tournament forced NSCRO to administer an at-large bid to one team based on results. St. Mary’s vindicated the competition committee’s choice, running the table all the way to the finals.
The Seahawks took a more conventional route to nationals this year. It was not without its tribulations, however. The Maryland school lost in the finals at the Elon 7s and faltered in its own tournament. They had to overcome a number of injuries but managed to win the Franklin and Marshall 7s QT to make their way back to nationals.
The Beavers are one of three teams to return to nationals from last year. After coming up short in the Food Bank 7s on a controversial conversion call made by the referee, Babson traveled from Boston all the way to Pittsburgh to play in the Grove City 7s QT. The Beavers went 5-0, defeating a talented field that included a Susquehanna team that had not missed out on nationals until this season.
Overall, Babson sits at 19-3-1 this spring in 7s. The Beavers are a very young side with seven players competing in their first ever season of rugby. While they are inexperienced, the Beavers are a very balanced team. They have several playmakers in Sam Casey and Charlie Roth, but the bulk of their success comes from strong team play in each phase of the game.
Remarkably, this is the first year Duke has played competitive 7s. The Blue Devils have been competitive in 15s for some time and have spent the last five years focusing on 15s play.
Duke saw immediate success in 7s thanks in large part to the make up of the roster. The Duke team fancies themselves smaller and faster than most opposing 15s teams, making their roster very conducive to 7s.
The Blue Devils play a very traditional style of 7s focused on ball retention and patience. The North Carolina school has a trio of players that spent time playing abroad and are very skilled. Josh Neuhaus and Noi Omaboe spent time playing in London while the versatile Kenneth Rubango was a member of the U-19 Ugandan national team.
The Blue Devils went 6-0 in route to the Elon 7s QT title.
Solano Community College
Solano CC made history by becoming the first ever community college to make the NSCRO national championships. The Falcons captured the only fall qualifier, the Santa Rosa 7s, beating the likes of Cal-Maritime, Sonoma State and several others.
The Falcons program emerged in 2014 as a developmental 15s side. A year later, the team moved up to the NSCRO Challenge Division (NSCRO division two) but ultimately could not sustain a 15s team. As a result, in 2016 the team focused on 7s and made it a focal point to get to Philadelphia.
The hard work paid off as the Falcons won the Santa Rosa 7s. However, Solano will have to overcome some adversity. Since the fall the team lost three players due to various reasons, and will only be traveling to Philadelphia with eight players.
Despite the depleted roster, look for the Falcons to play a wide open style next weekend.
The top two teams from each pool will head to the semifinals on Sunday morning inside the Talen Energy Stadium starting at 8am. The winners will advance to the final, which will be also played inside Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday at 3:17pm.