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Pool D at the USA Rugby Emirate Airlines Club 7s National Championships features Mystic River, the Chicago Lions, Atlanta Old White and Santa Monica. All four teams return to Nationals from last year and will provide a geographically diverse group of contests.
The Northeast competitors, Mystic River, are one of the favorites in the group. Since combining with Middlesex several years ago, the Mystics have become a force in club rugby. The Malden, Mass. team finished a solid third in last year’s 7s competition and fourth in 15s. In 2016, the Mystics took home the Division I 15s National Championship and will be looking to do the same in 7s.
Mystic River competed in one of the toughest regions in the country, facing the likes of Old Blue and NYAC. It was a slow start for Mystic this season, however, as it was missing key player Pono Haitsuka to the pro league. The Mystics have, however, a solid mix of experience and youth with former Samoan international Alatasi Tupou playing alongside New England College standout, Ian Luciano, and former Dartmouth football convert, Steve Dazzo.
“We are feeling good going into tourney. We are well tested coming out of the Northeast comp and are coming off a solid three weeks of training. That time off gave us the opportunity to stress some of the stuff we rushed into with the early start to the 7s season in the Northeast. Bringing back our core of vets (6) with the addition of some solid young guys should make for an interesting tourney,” Mystic River head coach Josh Smith told Rugby Today.
The Midwest is well represented in this group by the Chicago Lions. The Lions swept through the Western Conference of the Midwest and won the Midwest Championship.
The Lions won the National Championship in 2007 and have been a mainstay on the national circuit with 10 consecutive appearances on the big stage. The Lions finished 11th in the tournament last year, but with a bevy of young talent combined with experienced players, they could take the group.
“It's a fine balance of some young college kids, some experienced vets and some cross-over athletes,” said David Fee, head coach of the Chicago Lions. “Nick Feakes and Robert Stortz are two playmakers. Dan Coci and Shawn Winston can finish and shut down on the outside.”
Atlanta Old White joins the fray in Group D and come in as a bit of an underdog. The team has had seven forays on the national scene and had its best 6th place finish in both 2009 and 2010. Last year, the Old White finished in 12th place.
The Southern team prides itself on being comprised of only local athletes. Although the team is local, Atlanta’s Jamie Gasparella indicated that the team is much deeper than it has been in a long time.
“We are a family and each player contributes through their play and energy. In comparison to previous years, our roster contains a deeper group of athletic forwards while the backs have been more well-rounded this season, playing well on both sides of the ball. We are proud to boast a true local team, harmoniously combining the right fits from several Atlanta men's club and college teams,” Gasparella shared with Rugby Today.
Santa Monica rounds out the group. The Dolphins finished second in SoCal qualifying to Belmont Shore and look to build off a steady slew of performances. The SoCal side finished 10th last year but comes in with a bit of a new look side this go around.
"We have a good nucleus of Santa Monica veterans mixed with some new faces joining us in the summer from college programs like UCLA and Notre Dame. We're a relatively small team, but what we lack in size we make up for with work rate and determination. The only expectation we have is that every game we play this weekend will be harder than any game we've played in our qualifying tournaments," said Santa Monica coach Marc Stcherbina.