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Ten qualifying tournaments in four regions culminated at the South 7s Championships in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday. A total of 12 men’s and women’s teams from the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, and the True South Rugby Unions competed for the four spots at Nationals in Denver, Colo. on August 13th and 14th. With temperatures nearing 100°F all day, the South 7s Championships ended with Atlanta Old White and New Orleans representing the men and Orlando and Charlotte advancing for the women in Denver.
In the men’s championship, Charlotte (Carolinas), the Legion (Georgia), the Oklahoma Elite (True South), and Orlando (Florida) were grouped in one pool and Miami (Florida), New Orleans (True South), Atlanta Old White (Georgia), and Charlotte B (Carolinas, not eligible) rounded out the second pool.
After three rounds of pool play, Charlotte and Orlando advanced to the semifinals out of Pool A. Charlotte went undefeated prevailing over the Legion, the Oklahoma Elite, and Orlando by a combined score of 80-19. Orlando won its first two games before succumbing to the North Carolina team in its last match.
Pool B was more competitive as Miami, New Orleans, and Atlanta battled to identical 2-1 records. Miami opened with a 36-7 victory over New Orleans, beat Charlotte B, and then were blanked, 28-0, by the Old White. Following its loss to Miami, New Orleans let out its frustration on Atlanta winning 24-14 before crushing Charlotte B, 54-0. The Old White began with an easy 41-7 win over Charlotte B, lost to New Orleans, and shut out Miami. Atlanta and New Orleans advanced to the semifinals based on point differential.
In the penultimate matches, New Orleans scraped by Charlotte in one of the closest matches of the tournament, 15-12. The Louisiana club didn’t wait too long before they knew their opponent in the final as the Atlanta Old White clobbered Orlando, 31-12.
The Atlanta Old White attributed the success of the tournament to the team-centric attitude of the team. “Our coach, Ronn Omondi, challenged us to share the workload during the day,” said Atlanta captain Jamie Gasparella. “That can mean many different things in different games. The outcome was that we had different guys step up at different times in each game to shoulder the load, play with great intensity, and inspire the rest of the team. I believe that was the difference maker for us.”
The team first ideal powered the Atlanta Old White to a 28-5 victory in the cup final against a well-drilled New Orleans club. The Old White jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and scored one more try in the second half as Zach Miller (2, 4/4 on conversions), Rashaud Moore, and Coop Jackson each dotted down tries.
Commenting on the final, Gasparella remarked, “New Orleans beat us earlier in the day and the reason why they won the pool play game was because of intensity from the beginning. In the final, we made a commitment to ourselves to come out with just as great of an effort and win that first battle. We came out with a lot of fire and passion and played with our backs against the wall leading to the momentum in our direction and we were running after that.”
After taking a year hiatus from Nationals last year, the Atlanta Old White is excited to return to the big dance once again. “For us, it’s been a great year,” Gasparella said. “Starting with a wonderful tournament out in Las Vegas and we have built momentum from tournament to tournament and it really came to a peak at the South Championships.”
“The key for us [in Denver] will be to set the tone early in pool play,” Gasparella added. “Even though we have the No. 1 seed out of the South, I think we need to bring a blue collar work ethic that we’ve been carrying all summer and just a great intensity to play from the first whistle to the last whistle... I believe if we set the tone correctly, we can have a great time in pool play and put ourselves in a position to compete for a top spot on Sunday.”
In the four team women’s bracket, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Orlando waged war as the fourth team, Old Toe, was ineligible for Nationals. Orlando ran rough shod over the field shutting out Old Toe and Charlotte in first two games, 64-0, and then stomped Phoenix, 31-5. Charlotte began the round robin beating Phoenix, 22-5, incurred a goose egg against Orlando, and finished with a 29-10 win over Old Toe.
In the semifinals, Orlando’s strong defense kept Phoenix out of the tryzone to win 31-0 for its third shutout of the tournament. Charlotte joined Orlando in the final after beating Old Toe again, 24-15.
Determined to not go as easily as it played out in the early rounds, Charlotte challenged Orlando in the cup final and didn’t allow the top club to run up the score. Charlotte was in striking distance of the title until the last whistle, but Orlando survived to take the South’s No. 1 seed by the score of 15-12. Both Orlando and Charlotte advance to Denver on August 13th and 14th to represent the South at Nationals.