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Life University is looking to make it three major 7s tournaments in a row, as the defending South college 7s and USA Rugby college 7s champions hope to take the USA 7s LLC Collegiate Rugby Championship qualifier at the Las Vegas Invitational February 9-11 (www.lvirugby.com ).
Thirty-two teams are playing for the one qualifier spot at the CRC in Philadelphia in June. Life knows they have some tough teams to get through, including 2011 CRC Qualifier finalists Kutztown University, 2010 CRC Champions Utah, and 2011 CRC Qualifier winners (and the team Life beat in the USA final in overtime), Central Washington.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said Cariaga. “The path is not clear as to which teams we’ll play, but we know there will be some good teams there and we have to do well in our pool first. If we do make it to the big game, we’re expecting a good game. If we play Central Washington, we know it will be tough because they fought for everything that they got, as we did.”
Life has a DI-A season to worry about, as does CWU, Kutztown, UCLA, Cal Poly, Air Force, and Utah. Balancing both 15s and 7s is a tough job.
“After the [USA Rugby 7s] championships were recharged our batteries a little bit,” said Cariaga. “But we got back into Marietta and we’ve been drilling our basic skills, prepping for both the 15s and 7s seasons. We’re driving 15s first but as the 7s approaches we’re going to do more 7s-specific training. We try to stay focused on 15s, but winning the 7s national championships has sparked new energy in the 7s program. We’re just rugby players at the end of the day, whether it’s 15s or 7s we’re going to do whatever it takes.”
Director of Rugby Dan Payne said the lure of winning the Qualifier and getting Life University some national TV exposure at the main CRC event is strong, but it’s not the only reason he is taking a team to Vegas.
“Any time we get to compete against an elite group of teams we want to take on that competition,” Payne said. “We respect all our opponents and our guys train extensively to seek out the competition. Sure the driving impetus is to get to the CRC and be in that stadium and on NBC, but more than that, it’s a championship and we want to compete.”