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The NorCal championships provided the final two qualifier berths to Club 7s Nationals this weekend with the Seattle Saracens and Olympic Club claiming the first and second spots respectively.
This is one of the tougher regions to qualify from as the Pacific Northwest is lumped into the NorCal bracket for the berths to nationals. Five teams descended on Northern California with a pair of teams coming out of the northwest and a trio of squads competing from northern California. The berths to nationals came down to the play of this tournament, leaving little room for error.
The Seattle Saracens were the team to beat coming in. The Saracens are three time defending national champions but nonetheless were tested throughout the day. Seattle ultimately made its way back to nationals, but a loss in pool play and a tight match in the final showed the depth of the region.
“We are very excited to be heading back and to nationals again this year. We have won the last three and it would be a great achievement to do four in a row,” said Seattle’s Director of Rugby Justin Fitzpatrick. “However, we understand how difficult that is but that will be the objective in Denver.”
It is a little bit of a new look roster for the Saracens as Kevin Swiryn, Rocco Mauer and Tim Stanfill are not returning from last year’s title winning squad. However, Peter Tiberio and Miles Craigwell are back with a new wave of talented players.
“If you look at the last three years there is always a turnover with the team. We keep it fresh and keep it competitive,” Fitzpatrick added. “We still feel we have a squad that can compete with the best in the country and we are looking forward to getting to Denver.”
The surprise of the tournament came from Olympic Club. OC had fallen to the Life West in the three prior tournaments but a full composition of players, something it had been lacking nearly the whole summer, provided the necessary jolt to get the squad a victory against its northern California rivals.
“We lost to Life West every single encounter this summer. We have an interesting group of players who are full time professionals. So getting everybody out on a tournament day is difficult. We finally had everybody that we needed to on the weekend…and got the win against Life West when it mattered,” said Olympic Club’s Colin Hawley. “This is something we have been eyeing all season, we know we had to beat Life West to get there because we knew the Saracens were going to come down to town.”
After losing its opening game of the day to Ronin, Olympic Club reeled off three wins and had clinched a spot in the final prior to playing the Saracens in the final pool play game. OC ran out to a quick lead with a couple of tries and ended up knocking off the defending champions 14-12. With the full complement of players and a simple game plan, Olympic Club got the job done.
Although both teams that made the final qualified for nationals, the team’s faced off in a rematch right after to determine the seeding for the big event. The Saracens got the better of a depleted, injured and exhausted Olympic Club (Hawley had to leave early to commentate the Pro Rugby game in Sacramento) with a 20-14 victory.
Despite losing the final, Olympic Club is thrilled to be headed back to nationals. Hawley indicated that he thinks this team has another big tournament in itself for nationals.
“It is amazing for Olympic Club and the guys involved. We have been talking the entire season that we are going to nationals, that this is a team you want to sacrifice your body for,” an exuberant Hawley told Rugby Today. “Having this group of players it is worth the effort and worth the commitment.”