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The field for the West’s second qualifier, Saturday in suburban Kansas City, Mo., is smaller than the first, with just six teams set to compete – the Denver Barbarians, Glendale Raptors, Kansas City Blues, Omaha G.O.A.T.S., St. Louis Ramblers and St. Louis Bombers. And of that group, only three are expected to really make a run at the title – Kansas City, Denver and Glendale.
The Barbarians were dominant in their home tournament, but they come to Kansas City with a changed lineup. Logan Collins, Ben Pinkelman and Brendan Shea all won’t be making the trip. Those are three significant contributors from the Barbos team that finished second in the nation last year.
Denver has plenty left in the cupboard to be considered the tournament favorite, though. Max DeAchaval and Kyle Hitt are the two big names, and with talented college athletes like Oklahoma’s Michael Al-Jiboori and New Mexico Highlands’ Kevon Williams, there's speed in the team. Trusted veteran Ben Haapapuro returns to the lineup after missing Denver 7s, as does Elliott Dillon-Herzog, who played at the Elite City 7s last month.
Glendale limped to a second-place finish in the first qualifier. The Raptors played a very long and active 15s season in the spring, reaching the Pacific Rugby Premiership final, and their health is worse for the wear. By the time the Raptors got to the final in the opening qualifier, they were down to just eight players, five of which were healthy. They had to start a guy with a dislocated shoulder, and the Barbos ran over them, 61-0.
The Raptors are still nowhere near fully healthy, with a slew of key players hoping to pass a Thursday fitness test and make the trip to Kansas City. But Glendale will be helped greatly by the additions of Chad London and Preston Bryant, who missed the first event. London, who will be playing hurt with injured ribs, was on tour with the Eagles, and Bryant was prepping to join the 7s Eagles at the Olympic Training Center.
With the Eagles coaching vacancy came drastic changes to Bryant’s contract offer, and he’s chosen to stay in Denver and continue to pursue his undergraduate degree at Colorado University, making him eligible for Glendale this weekend.
The Blues finished third in Denver and will be running out largely the same lineup on their home turf. The one notable change is the addition of Ed Mills. He’s the team’s most dangerous creator and ball carrier, and he’ll likely open up space as defenses have to key on him.
With just six teams competing, no one is eliminated in pool play. After two games in the group stage, the winner of each pool advances straight to the semifinals, while the second- and third-place teams from each group crossover for the right to get to the semis.
The most important match of pool play will be the Blues versus Glendale. With just two series points on the board, compared to Denver’s six and Glendale’s four, the Blues need to make it to the final Saturday to keep realistic hopes of qualifying for Nationals alive. And beating Glendale to get a bye to the semifinals would equal a much smoother road to the final.
|Pool A||Pool B|
|Denver Barbarians||Glendale Raptors|
|Omaha G.O.A.T.S.||Kansas City Blues|
|St. Louis Bombers||St. Louis Ramblers|