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Pool A may turn out to be the pool of death at the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship. All four teams are going to be competitive and in many people’s eyes contains the tournament favorite.
With Cal out of the tournament, Lindenwood is now the team to beat. Even with Cal, the Lions may have been the team to beat as they bested the Golden Bears 26-12 at the USA Rugby Championship last week.
For Lindenwood, it is their second consecutive USA College 7s national title. The Lions cruised through pool play last year and the quarterfinals only to fall to their nemesis Life in the semifinals. This could finally be the year that the Lions get their first win over their number one rival.
The Lions had not played a 7s tournament with their full complimentary of players this spring but that didn’t slow them down last week. The Missouri school racked up over 150 points in pool play and didn’t yield a point until the final against Cal. In the process, Lindenwood blanked a perennial contender and final four team from last year’s CRC in Indiana in route to a title.
With several capped Eagles in Lorenzo Thomas and Deion Mikesell, the Lions have no shortage of strength and speed on the outside. Along with playmakers Cristian Rodriguez, Nick Feakes and JP Romero, Lindenwood can strike from anywhere with anyone.
Along with Lindenwood is another team that made the final eight at the USA Rugby national championship. Wisconsin won a pool with AIC and Kutztown only to fall short in the quarterfinals against Grand Canyon.
The Badgers swept through the Big 10 7s tournament (albeit Indiana did not attend) and won another tournament earlier in the spring. Wisconsin isn’t imposing or terribly fast, but the team plays incredibly well together and does the hard work to get the job done. Don’t sleep on Wisconsin.
Nobody should be overlooking St. Joe’s anymore. The Hawks have been on the bubble of reaching the top eight for the last two years, and if not for what looked to be a math error, would have cracked that two years ago. The Philly school slipped up a little last year in a tough pool with Lindenwood and the Service Academies. This year will not be much easier for them as this pool is filled with tough teams.
The Hawks have undergone a lot this year, with the tragic loss of team member Mark Dombroski on a tour in Bermuda. The team responded well after the horrendous tragedy, winning the Jesuit 7s in California earlier this spring. The team certainly has something to play for and with an experienced leader in Jimmy Wolfer and a talented playmaker in Noah Niu, the Hawks are a formidable squad.
Rounding out the group is Mount St. Mary’s. The Mount won the Challenge Cup last year to make its way to the main event. The Maryland school is young but incredibly talented and playing as a cohesive unit. The Mount won the Chesapeake 7s Conference and declined to head to nationals in Denver, instead focusing on the CRC.
The team tested itself against several CRC teams at Army and came away with four wins. Dispatching two Army squads, a good Iona team and Temple, the Mount is quietly racking up wins against DI opponents.
With six groups and only eight playoff spots, this group will be difficult. It will likely take at least two wins to get into the cup rounds but whoever comes out will be battle tested.