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In less than a week, 16 teams will collide in Minneapolis, Minn. for the 2017 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Men's Club 7s National Championship. The teams in Pool C are the veterans of the tournament with a total of 56 appearances at the tournament. With the likes of the Denver Barbarians, Belmont Shore, Charlotte, and Schuylkill River in Pool C, the squads have been to this level before and know what they have to do to succeed.

Denver Barbarians (Frontier #2, #2 Overall)

After missing their first tournament in 15 years, the Denver Barbarians are back for their 23rd appearance at Nationals. Denver was the National Runner-Up in 2015 before not qualifying last summer in the Frontier Conference. Determined to return to Nationals in 2017, the Barbarians took a different route to begin the season beating fellow pool member, Belmont Shore, in the Pacific South’s OMBAC 7s. Returning to the Frontier, Denver had to contend with the top two finishers in Rugby Utah and Kansas City in the three qualifiers. It came down to the final tournament at the Lincoln 7s where Denver beat out Kansas City for the second seed in the Frontier.

As the elder statesmen at Nationals, Denver has had to reinvent itself multiple times throughout the years. After not qualifying in 2016, the coaching staff of Steve LaPorta, Tyson Meek, and Jason Kelly have emphasized team depth, quick strike ability, and fitness as the keys to getting back to Nationals. “[Denver has to] play to their abilities and make the right rugby decisions [on the field to advance at Nationals],” head coach LaPorta said. “We have a hard working deep group of players that stumbled a little during the early qualifying tournaments, but we have worked hard as a team to learn from our mistakes and correct our deficiencies.”

That deep group includes a laundry list of names that have played at the highest levels of USA Rugby. The quality of play in practice has pushed all of the squad to get better and improved the skills of the emerging players. “We have been very fortunate this year as we have many exceptional players, i.e. Max [de Achaval], Kevon [Williams], Michael [Al-Jiboori], Ben [Pinkleman], the list goes on and all the players have brought the qualities we as coaches like no matter what their backgrounds are. The All-Americans, international and pro players all have good work ethics, are humble and have the ability to play like a team.”

As for the competition, coach LaPorta knows the perils once you reach Nationals. “I have been to enough national level tournaments to know that every team you face will be a high quality team and the team that plays well on the day can determine the results... Belmont is a strong talented team we played against early this season and any game against them will be a challenge. With regards to the other teams in our pool, Schuylkill River has performed at a very high level in the past and know this team will be a tough opponent and Charlotte is a team that I am unfamiliar with.”

Denver Barbarians Projected Roster

  • Kevon Williams
  • Maximal de Achaval
  • Michael Al-Jiboori
  • Celester Asuega
  • Jeremy Misailegalu
  • Eric Sykes Jr.
  • Landon Peterson
  • Nic Boyer
  • Cody Melphy
  • Devrin Young
  • Siale Maka
  • Dominic Rufran
  • Paul Eteaki
  • Ben Pinkleman

Belmont Shore (Pacific South #1, #5 Overall)

With its 11th straight appearance at Nationals, Belmont Shore is ready to improve upon its Plate Championship from last year. Belmont has been to the promised land three times in its history (2009, 2011, and 2012) and believes this summer’s chemistry and brotherhood will take it to the cup final once again.

Pulling from a large player pool that saw two competitive teams challenge for first place in the Pacific South qualifiers all season, head coach Peter Sio has the difficult task of assembling a tight knit squad for Nationals. “I have a good mix of young kids and veterans on this team. I was able to create a bigger pool this year to select from. The boys were fighting to earn their spots every week at training as well as trying to play well on the weekends, definitely the hardest summer for me as a coach on who to pick as they all brought something to the table.”

Players like former Eagles Justin Boyd and Pono Haitsuka, US Falcon and 7s pool player Jack Tracy, PRO rugby’s Arnold Meredith, Samoan National team member Pita Semeane, and college All-Americans Marcus Tupuola, Cristian Rodriguez, and Roland Blackiston form the backbone of Belmont. With all that talent on the field, 2014 Youth Olympian Sione Masoe has stood out on the pitch with his speed and scoring ability and Haitsuka has stepped up with his leadership and communication on defense.

With already having played Denver at the OMBAC 7s in June, Belmont knows that the Barbarians will tough task in pool play. “[Denver] has a team that could potentially win Nationals this year,” Sio stated. “We know nothing about Schuylkill River and Charlotte, but we expect nothing less from either team as they're both at Nationals and that speaks volumes.”

It will all come down to belief in the system and chemistry for the Shore this weekend. “Everyone put the team first and we're able to support one another in whatever direction we're going,” Sio concluded. “We were very lucky and fortunate to clinch first seed early prior to the last tournament, gave us more time to prep for Nationals. My boys have done the work to get us there, now the pressure is on me to make the right selections and putting the right pieces together.”

Belmont Shore Projected Roster

  • Keni Nasoqeqe
  • Max Paronelli
  • Arnold Meredith
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Pono Haitsuka
  • Sione Masoe
  • Jack Tracy
  • Pita Semeane
  • Danny Thomas
  • Marcus Tupuola
  • Justin Boyd
  • Tyler Sisley
  • John Bulaich (traveling reserve)

Charlotte (South #1, #11 Overall)

In the competitive South Conference where four divisions came together in July for the championships, Charlotte emerged from the competition to grasp the #1 seed. After winning the three of the four Carolinas Union qualifiers, Charlotte went 3-0 in pool play at the South Championships and beat the Legion of Doom and Optimus by a combined point total of 50-10 to claim the title.

Head coach Alec Acosta prides his club on opportunistic, disciplined, team-oriented play that plays as a unit both on the attack and on defense. Acosta credits his team’s success in “consistently taking care of the basics. Believe/trust in themselves, their teammates and the team's pattern of play.” Fitness is paramount for Charlotte, especially with the competition in Pool C.

Acosta will look to Fijian Izzy Waqa, former Ohio Aviator Matt Hughston, and Nelson Hicks to score the tries while fellow Fijian Bess Waqa and Brandon Sorkin are the defensive cogs in the machine. Two-way talent Chase Suznevich is everywhere on the field and James Mezzanotte and Ryan Johns are the impact subs off the bench.

Charlotte Projected Roster

  • Maxim Bennett
  • Amro Gouda
  • Nelson Hicks
  • Matt Hughston
  • Ryan Johns
  • Jonah Lamothe
  • James Mezzanotte
  • Adam Shokair
  • Chase Suznevich
  • Eric Dolan
  • Izzy Waqa
  • Bess Waqa
  • Brandon Sorkin

Schuylkill River (Mid-Atlantic #2, #14 Overall)

Appearing in its seventh straight appearance at Nationals, Schuylkill River is the constant from the Mid-Atlantic. After coming in second in 2011, the Exiles have performed admirably in the postseason but will look to advance deeper in this summer’s tournament. Schuylkill brings one of the younger teams to Nationals (average age of 23) and hopes its athleticism and consistency will power it to the cup rounds on Sunday.

Although they are young, Schuylkill’s roster is filled with players with championship experience. Pat Boyle, making his tenth Nationals appearance, is the club veteran providing leadership on and off the field. Dan Deal and Ben Janssen have taken their play to new levels summer and Kutztown quintet of Jason Denofa, Sam Devine, Alex Faison-Donhoe, Jordan Ghyzel, and Josh Mastromatto know how to play at a high level.

Head coach Chris Ryan knows once you are at Nationals, all bets are off. “Having been to Nationals quite a bit, we know that what it says on the jersey doesn't matter much, everyone is good.” Schuylkill has gelled into a team that has bought into system and trusts each other. Ryan believes that consistency has been a driving to the Exiles’ success this summer. “If we stay consistent like we have been able to do for the most part, we will be in the cup rounds. Be themselves and trust each other.”

For a group of Philadelphia boys, advancing to the cup rounds will be hard with Denver and Belmont Shore in the same pool.  “We have some All-Americans, USA Falcons, and certainly guys who could have played PRO,” Ryan said, “but everyone of our guys was born in Philly or played college rugby in the Philadelphia area, so it’s truly a local side. That said, don't let that fool you, these guys can play at the next level, and our job is to prove that this weekend.” 

Schuylkill River Projected Roster

  • Pat Boyle
  • Cody Bukowski
  • Bobby Collins
  • Dan Deal
  • Jason Denofa
  • Sam Devine
  • Alex Faison-Donhoe
  • Jordan Ghyzel
  • Ben Janssen
  • Graham Johnston
  • Brian Keown
  • Josh Mastromatto
  • Peter Mulville