Rugby in the Midwest has been an exceptional experience due to the extremely competitive qualifier series. This past summer I had the chance to train and play with the many-times-over Midwest champions, the Chicago Lions. Their history of success includes a 2007 7s National Championship and 2012 Runner-Up finish. This is an organization with a wealth of talent and depth in coaching coaching with Jeremy Nash taking over for Serevi ODP coach Aaron Manheimer (who still attended and assisted at trainings); it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. Also a special shout out to president Patrick OReilly who gave the women the chance to play and to Eagle Kate Daley for making it happen!
Frankly I'm not a typical 7s player by any means. I'm neither fast nor swift-footed, I have zero "moves". I'm far more of an endurance athlete that can somewhat compensate with knowledge of the game and "getting" the game of 7s; the chance to learn more about the game and witness their detailed training/game strategy firsthand was, well, pretty sweet. Plus our women's side joined them men as champions at Milwaukee Lakefront 7s (beating then #1 NOVA in the championship game), repeated the sweep at Cleveland's Rock & Roll 7s, and earned a bid to the USA Rugby Nationals as well!
As a part of the Midwest circuit we play in a series of 5 tournaments in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Grand Rapids with iRB type scoring based on performances. The top 2 men's teams advance to Nationals and this year the top 3 women's sides earned berths. Over the course of these weeks (and what's going on 12 years of involvement as a player and coach), we get to see the same teams and familiar faces several times. I've loved seeing players develop, watching opposing coaches (notably Paul Holmes with 1823 and the entire Youngbloodz organization in Minneapolis), picking peoples' minds, and participating such high level competition week in and week out. At one point some 7 men's sides were ranked in Rugby Magazine's top 25 nationally with 3 of our MW Men's sides in the top 5. The women had 3 teams in the Top 12 as well. It should be noted that 3 years ago the women's qualifier bracket didn't even exist.
Both the Chicago Lions and 1823 sides that advanced to the Men's National Championships will be playing in the Elite Bracket in Las Vegas. Other teams will feature Midwest players like Tiger Rugby, the Collegiate All Americans, Serevi Selects, Atlantis and more. It's fantastic to see so many opportunities for the men to shine.... their growing opportunities helped inspire the Stars 7s side. The women's opportunities for 7s haven't quite reached such a point and rumor has it the neither the USA Women's 7s team nor the Stars and Stripes developmental side will play in Vegas. Atlantis is sending a team for the Elite after a successful Tobago 7s assembly and the Howlers Canadian side, will be in the Open bracket. The Midwest U-23s are keeping the select side tradition alive in the Open bracket as well. We can only hope the women's competition grows in coming years.
Oh - and the article that inspired this post? Thanks to Rugby Magazine for a great forecast for the Elite men's side of the tournament where Alex Goff writes, "Currently the opportunities to play tough competition are few and far between, with the Serevi RugbyTown 7s one chance in the summer. But not other venue offers the combination of international competition (the LVI Men's Elite 7s also will include national teams or development national teams from Belgium, Mexico, Peri, Canada, Cayman Islands, and pro teams from Europe, as well). As many as 100 young American 7s players will get exposure to international and professional competition. Nothing anyone else does rivals that".... read more here!