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In the seven years of the women’s USA Rugby Emirate Airline Club 7s National Championship, five teams have won the top prize and 2018’s rendition of the tournament will be intense as every squad except for one is represented. Each previous champion is in prime position to bring home the trophy once again, however with only half of the field returning from last summer, expect fireworks at Columbia University in New York City, N.Y. this weekend.

Seattle Atavus, who beat the San Diego Surfers last year for the title, did not compete this summer, but the Washington Athletic Club has taken its place with four of its players. The coaches for Seattle relocated to southern California and National Runner-up San Diego recruited them and as a result, has blasted through the competition in the Pacific South. After a third-place finish, Life West has refocused its efforts to take the first seed in the Pacific South and the Scion Sirens outraced a crowded Mid-Atlantic hoping to repeat its 2016 championship run. Lastly, American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC) is sending two sides to Nationals after dominating the Red River.

Pool A – Life West, D.C. Furies, Rocky Mountain Magic, Phoenix Rugby

Pool A is the least experienced group, but that doesn’t mean it is light on talent or mettle. The favorite to win the pool is Life West who made it to the cup semifinals last year and finished in third with a 5-0 victory over Scion. The D.C Furies, Rocky Mountain Magic, and Phoenix Rugby didn’t qualify in 2017 and will battle for the second spot to advance to the cup round.

The D.C. Furies will be making their fifth appearance at Nationals and their first since 2014. The Furies placed second and third in the first two Mid-Atlantic qualifiers and cemented themselves as the second seed with a tournament win in the final event of the series. Phoenix Rugby, the second seed from the South, returns to Nationals after a year off where it placed 12th in 2016.

Rocky Mountain Magic is the rookie from the Frontier, but its road to the postseason is a bit different. The Frontier only had two qualifiers and the last one was canceled due to weather. The region decided to send the Magic to Nationals based on the team having a better point differential against common opponents than the Kansas City Jazz. New York City will now be the proving ground for Rocky Mountain to make its mark.

Lastly, the Gladiatrix are back with a vengeance after a third-place finish last summer. Life West transitioned to 7s straight from its second 15s National Championship and brought back most of the squad.

“The majority of our squad has been with the club for several summers now,” head coach Alex Houser said. “So our ladies are a year more experienced and mature, but more importantly the bonds and camaraderie of the group have been deepened and strengthened over the last year. Also, having added co-captain Nicole Strasko to the squad has been a blessing. In concert with Bitsy Cairns (co-captain) and influencers such as Nikki Kenyon, Jenn Sever, and ‘Captain of Fun’ Amy Naber, we have a very strong leadership group.”

With so many athletes on the team, Houser’s ace in the hole has to be Emily Roskopf. Houser described Roskopf’s pivotal moment this season where she scored in the final minute of our NorCal championship. “At that moment, she displayed her athleticism by having the pace and evasion to beat several defenders to the corner, her rugby IQ by having the vision to spot the space, and her character by having the self-belief to back herself in that moment. It was awesome to watch and a microcosm of the amazing and well-rounded player and the person she is becoming and we are all so proud of her.”

The key for Life West this weekend is to play Gladiatrix rugby and take one game at a time. “To be present, stay in the moment, and to simply be themselves and express who they are on the field,” Houser explained. “If we are able to begin with and remember our collective and individual “Why’s” and manifest the five “How’s” we will have discussed, the “What” will flow abundantly to us. We are very humbled and honored to have the opportunity to be included amongst such a great group of teams, players, and coaches and hope to repay the opportunity by the spirit in which we compete.”

Life West will be first out of the gates when the Gladiatrix takes on Phoenix Rugby at 10:00 am on Saturday.

Pool B – San Diego Surfers, Chicago Lions, Berkeley All Blues, American Rugby Pro Training Center White

From the least experienced to the most, Pool B has two of the most prolific programs in Club 7s history. The San Diego Surfers and the Berkeley All Blues traded the first four championships and the Surfers have been to every Nationals since it began in 2011.

The All Blues missed last year’s event but qualified this summer beating out ORSU for the final spot in the Pacific North. Additionally, Berkeley impressed at the Cape Fear 7s but fell to Scion in the final. The Chicago Lions are back after 2017’s 7th place result and won the Midwest with two top finishes. The ARPTC’s second side rounds out the pool.

As for the Surfers, San Diego welcomed the addition of Emilie Bydwell and Michaela Staniford to the coaching staff after they moved to the area. With over nearly 30 players consistently at practice, they joined head coach Liz Strohecker to develop and challenge every athlete that came out to play this year. The influence of Bydwell and Staniford has been felt throughout the season on the way to qualifier victories at the OMBAC and Santa Monica 7s.

With so many players competing for spots, the selection for Nationals has been difficult. “Players have been challenged all season to play up, work hard, and overachieve at their role,” captain Elizabeth Trujillo said. “Selecting the final 12 was no easy task with all of the athletes that came out to play this year and the hard work that was put forth by everyone.”

“Each of the 12 players selected is dynamic and contributes to the overall qualities, values, and game structure of this team. The addition of rookies Alena Olsen, Ashlee Byrge, Meya Bizer, and Stephanie Rovetti to the team this year has been advantageous and we are extremely delighted to have them join the Surfers family.”

We’ll see if all the hard paid off when the Surfers hit the field on Saturday starting with the ARPTC White at 11:20 am.

Pool C – Washington Athletic Club, New York Rugby Club, Atlanta Harlequins, Northern Virginia

Pool C has three teams returning from last summer and one taking the place of the champions. New York, Northern Virginia, and the Atlanta Harlequins will look to challenge the Washington Athletic Club for group supremacy on Saturday.

Northern Virginia joins San Diego as the only two clubs to have qualified for every national championship and got to NYC as the third seed from the Mid-Atlantic. As the #1 seed from the South, the Atlanta Harlequins have had plenty of rest after playing its last qualifier almost two months ago. The Harlequins did face off against the top women’s talent at the Cape Fear 7s but were stopped in the quarterfinals.

Rugby in the Seattle area has had many evolutions starting with the Seattle Saracens and then to Seattle Atavus winning it all last year. The latest version is the Washington Athletic Club or WAC for short.

“We had quite a lot of change between this year and last,” Carly MacKinnon said. “Our coaches moved to take on new and exciting adventures in their life, four players from our national championship squad were not able to return this summer, and we have sustained a few injuries as the summer went on. Another change has been the support and buy-in from the WAC.”

“We knew the ‘Atavus Academy’ name wasn’t going to be something that happened this year so we took to the organization that has been overseeing the top men’s 7s program in the Seattle area and they were excited about the chance to add a women’s program to round things out... Change is inevitable, change is good, and we are excited to continue to move forward with the strong foundation of our sevens program here in Seattle under the new banner.”

The WAC is led by its four players from last year’s championship squad in Carly MacKinnon, Jennine Duncan, Mackenzie Garrett, and Ariana Bray. Captain Kristine Sommer believes the new set-up has captured something special and any championship will be a total team effort.

“We have some new and returning players playing for the Washington Athletic Club this year,” Sommer said. “Even with the difference in experience, each player has stepped up and will challenge what’s in front of them on the field when the opportunity presents itself. I think that’s what’s going to make us stand out. Each player is a playmaker, hard runner, and a strong support player. New talent will be recognized in New York from the WAC Women’s team.”

The WAC is hoping for a huge success in NYC and replicate last summer’s run to the title. “We have some great strategies for go-forward and create successful phase play, but when it comes down to it, if we play the space, take advantage of opportunities and retain the ball, we definitely can take it to anyone in the final and push for another championship performance,” Sommer concluded.

After sweeping the competition in the Northeast, the main opposition in Pool C is the New York Rugby Club. This will be NYRC’s fourth trip to the postseason and had its best finish ever last year when it won the Plate over ARPTC.

The 2018 summer season has been challenging for New York, but incredibly fruitful. “This is definitely a positive and we seemed to have stepped up to the challenge going unbeaten,” head coach Ryszard Chadwick said. “In total, we have played in seven tournaments, had over 20 players represent our first side, and scored over 1,000 points while conceding less than 100. This is no easy task in sevens and the women have really shown their class in their performances.”

NYRC has received contributions from every player who has stepped on the pitch. “We have a solid 12 players that can really change a game and affect the style of rugby we want to play,” Chadwick said. “It’s a great thing to have as a coach as we can play different combinations and use people at different times for what the game requires... We don't really have any true standouts, more one unit. I often talk about 7s being like a clock. It has 12 numbers on the face and without one of those numbers, the clock becomes ineffective. All 12 players add value to the squad in some way and that's the biggest threat we have. Players work for each other in defense and are selfless in attack.”

If you want to see the pool heavyweights battle, the clash between the WAC and New York starts at 6:20 pm.

Pool D - American Rugby Pro Training Center Blue, Scion Sirens, Metropolis, Boston

The so-called “Group of Death” may be Pool D. With ARPTC’s first side, the Scion Sirens, Metropolis, and Boston, it will be a dogfight to see who escapes the group. It is easy to say that ARPTC and Scion advance, but Metropolis and Boston will give the favorites a significant test.

Metropolis joins its male counterparts in NYC for its first appearance at Nationals. The women won the Firehouse 7s to start the Midwest series, came in second and third in the next two qualifiers, and earned the second seed in the regional championship. For Boston, 2018 marks its third visit to Nationals where it finished 14th in 2016.

After ending last year’s season in sixth place, the strength of ARPTC this summer has been depth and individuality. The Little Rock, Ark. developmental academy qualified two sides to Nationals and that depth has proved beneficial to prepare both teams for the postseason.

“The Academy took on 24 players this year, versus barely squeaking by with 12 last year, so training with and against numbers is a great advantage,” head coach Jules McCoy said. “Each player brings a unique skill set and personality to the whole and it works for them. They play off each other and when they are on, they are dynamic and fun to watch and coach. They play with curiosity and freedom.”

ARPTC sports talent all over the field from Sophie Pyrz from Penn State, Hallie Taafaau from Utah State, and Jess Wooden from the Atlanta Harlequins. “I would say every player on our team is a scoring threat, none depend on just one person,” McCoy added. “Our forwards are pretty special, we have Abby Vestal, a four-time ARPTC alumnus, and Jaynee Taafaau, new on the scene that is both hard to handle due to their own creative styles.”

McCoy believes this squad has what takes to bring home another championship to Little Rock. “They will have to bring intensity every minute and a sense of urgency on defense. Hopefully, some of the vim and vigor from our coaching staff of ex-internationals have rubbed off on them.”

Only two years removed from a national championship of their own, the Scion Sirens are ready for their fourth Nationals in a row. Building off a fourth-place finish last year, Scion blasted through the Mid-Atlantic as the #1 seed and took first place at the Cape Fear 7s.

“We have faced strong competition at all tournaments and as a result, the athletes have had to quickly build team chemistry and adapt to each other’s playing styles,” head coach Joanne Liu said. “Across the board, our players are young but experienced and many of them have played for us before so they’re Scion rugby IQ is more advanced.”

The squad is full of talented athletes from captain Lauren Rhode using her leadership and hard work to set the tone, Maggie Myles making plays and controlling the game, to Jade McGrath and her tremendous work rate keeping everyone focused. “Everyone serves a unique role in the success of this team including our traveling reserves and select side players that aren’t able to make it to New York as we consistently had over 22 players that contributed to prepping these 12 for Nationals,” Liu stated.

The strength of the team is that the players have bought into the team attitude and enjoy playing each other. “They’ve built trust and continuity and it shows on the field during training when they challenge each other and off the field where they still can’t get enough of each other,” Liu continued. “It truly is a team of some great individual athletes with a team-oriented mentality. However, in order to bring home the trophy, they will have to maintain composure and consistency, control their tempo, minimize the error rate, and, of course, find a way to win games.”

The much-anticipated brawl between Scion and ARPTC will be at 5:00 pm in the Rocco B. Commisso Stadium.