Along with the other territorial 7s championship tournaments happening this weekend, the Village Lions will be hosting the third annual Hell Gate 7s tournament, which doubles as the Northeast Rugby Union 7s Championship.
|Boston faces off against Old Blue tomorrow for the rights to the NRU's top seed at Nationals.|
|The Boston Belles will keep rolling at the Hell Gate 7s, looking to ensure their place at Nationals.|
Taking place on Randall’s Island in New York City, the tournament features men’s and women’s premier brackets, as well as men’s and women’s open divisions. The top two teams in the men’s and women’s premier division will earn spots in the National Club 7s Championship on August 6-7 in San Francisco, Calif.
In the men’s premier division, Boston is the current favorite to take the NRU’s top seed to nationals. Under the leadership of coach Kevin Immonje, the club has fielded two sides and run rampant over other teams in the summer’s qualifiers. Boston 1 won the South Shore qualifier through points accumulated during pool play and followed that up by beating Old Blue on their home turf to take the Midnight 7s in NYC. Boston 1 lost their one and only match of the summer when Old Blue exacted a measure of revenge by beating them in the New Haven semifinals last weekend. Coming into this weekend, Boston 1 is sitting pretty at the top of the standings with 64 points.
Boston 2 exhibits the level of depth that the club possesses. The second team came in third at South Shore and made it to the New Haven final but lost to Old Blue. Boston 2 has 36 points and holds third place in the NRU standings.
Old Blue seems to be the only team capable of competing with Boston and possibly overcoming them this weekend. The New York-based squad got off to a slow start, coming in fourth in South Shore, but picked it up throughout the season to eventually wrest a tournament title at New Haven from the Boston sides. With 58 points and second place in the standings, Old Blue's season has shown that the team has enough firepower for a solid bid to qualify for nationals.
Middlesex, another promising team, started the season well with second place in South Shore, but dropped from third to fifth in the standings and will need to push if they hope to earn one of the two spots.
Long Island, Morris, Old Blue 2 and NYRC round out the men’s premier division.
Much like the men’s division, a Boston side dominates the women’s premier bracket. The Boston Belles, specifically a 7s club, have 72 points and a stranglehold on the standings. The Belles lost in the Cup final of the South Shore tournament to a strong NRU select side and found themselves losing to New York in the Midnight 7s final before coming back to win. The team also has the Cape Cod 7s tournament victory under their belts.
“My focus has been more around trying to get the girls to start thinking about defense,” Belles Head Coach Yancy Graf said. “One deficit we’ve had in each of our games is we haven’t had to play an organized defense. Our athleticism has gotten us to where we are now, but our defense hasn’t been necessarily organized.”
With the return of Emily Bydwell from a broken hand and Kelly Seary from a minor injury, Graf’s team is near full strength approaching the critical point in the season. Emily Malkin, who typically plays for Boston, has also emerged as a playmaker for the Belles and earned the respect of her teammates throughout the summer.
“I know the heat on the turf might be a bit of a challenge for everyone participating, but it’s something everyone has to deal with during the summer,” Graf added. “This one’s definitely going to be the one that tests us mentally and physically.”
Despite being 44 points behind the Belles in the standings, the Village Lions are second and, if they play their cards right this weekend, can book their tickets to San Francisco. The Lions had a tough time at South Shore, losing all their pool matches before turning things around to win the bowl final. They also did well to make it to the semifinals at Old Blue’s event.
New York skipped out on South Shore, but didn’t miss a beat by coming in runners-up at the Midnight 7s.
New York is currently tied for third in the standings with the Falcons. The Falcons put on a good showing at South Shore to win the plate over Northland, but probably hurt their chances by not competing at Old Blue. Each team has 20 points coming into this weekend. Both are capable of putting up a good showing, making the final and earning spots at nationals, if they can beat out the Belles and Village Lions.
The Belles second team, Northland, New York 2 and Boston make up the rest of the women’s premier division.