This weekend marks the first College 7s Championship, and 11 women's teams are making the trip to College Station, Texas, to compete in the inaugural event. Below is a more in-depth look at the pools, teams' preparation, and expectations through pool play.
POOL A: INDIANA, PRINCETON, TEXAS
The forerunner in Pool A is Princeton. The Tigers are coming off a stellar Ivy League season, which ended with a second-place finish to Brown and invite to the DI National Championship in the spring. They’re led by flyhalf Lauren Rhode and USA U20 Eagle Dot Mittow, who play the game with expertise. And with the guidance of 7s guru Emil Signes behind the clipboard as well as USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship experience, Princeton will be tough to beat.
With that said, the Tigers had to make a quick transition to 7s after a grueling 15s season that saw their travel schedule double in distance. Even though Texas’ season is split between the fall and winter months, the squad has been able to integrate three 7s training sessions per week seeing as it competes against two other teams – Texas A&M and Texas Tech – during league. Wendy Young, Jacob Lieberman and Traci Schmidtke are behind the team’s 7s preparation. All of the players have All Star 15s (U23 or Senior) experience and several have also been selected to the USA All American, U20 or U23 camps.
After Indiana’s DI season ended, the team started 7s practices after the Thanksgiving break. Coach Vaughn Mitchell has led two-a-days and will have banked 16 sessions before school finals consume the players’ focus.
Mitchell has a young squad that contains no seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and six freshman. Mitchell brought on Chicago’s Laith Shaaban, a former Indiana coach, as well as Luke Mechling, and the additions have been key to introducing the abbreviated version of the game to the inexperienced.
“One player to watch is Becky Grivas,” Mitchell said. “She is a very good athlete. This is her first semester playing rugby but she has caught on very quickly. She is a former D1 soccer player who transferred from Ball State. Madeline Pound and Amanda Albers are also in their first semester of rugby. They are very athletic as well.
“Also to watch is Allison Hale,” Mitchell said. “She was on the Midwest U19 team that won the National title this past November.”
POOL B: ARIZONA STATE, BOSTON COLLEGE, VIRGINIA
Again, Virginia gets the nod in pool B for their 15s prowess, but they have many more attributes than a successful fall season. USA 7s captain Beth Black and 7s figurehead Dana Creager molded UVA into a feisty squad that performed very well during this year’s CRC, and opponents should expect another gutsy performance from the small, shifty team. Captain MC Anderson will lead the way.
Arizona State can’t boast the same 7s experience as UVA, but coach Barry Carter is very optimistic about the team’s potential.
“We’re a very young and inexperienced team with lots of enthusiasm and really good potential,” Carter said. “As a team, we’ve never played 7s in a tournament, but we’re small, light and reasonably quick.” Perfect for 7s.
Carter indicated that Kelsee Williams and Kijana Gaines will be the playmakers, while Tyra Norlander and Mariah Edmond should shine in their first go at 7s.
Boston College will likely be UVA’s toughest competition in pool play, and the team followed its DI season with three 7s practices per week during the last month.
“We have been working extremely hard,” BC president Allison Holcombe said. “Although we are entering the tournament as underdogs, we are confident that captains Thelma Rodrigues and Lily White will help lead the team to a successful experience.”
POOL C: CAL, SANTA CLARA, UNC CHARLOTTE
What's interesting about Pool C is that two of the teams have played each other in 7s this season. The Nor Cal region has embraced 7s and will be a nice juxtaposition for the majority of the field that has been focusing on 15s all season.
California is the team to beat in pool C, having finished first and second in two collegiate 7s tournaments this fall.
Owens has been a driving force in getting 7s onto area school’s agendas. Cal reached out DI and DII teams in the Nor Cal region and Pacific Mountain West Conference, and found good competition in fellow 7s championship competitors Santa Clara and Oregon State. Although the results of the two tournaments didn’t affect which teams advanced to nationals, that is Owen’s hope as the popularity of the 7s grows.
Although playing 7s seemingly gives Cal an advantage, Owens is not regarding teams coming off 15s seasons lightly.
“Areas of the country are dealing with different scheduling issues,” Owens said. “Teams that have had to play at regionals are missing out on 7s, but all of their players have been getting into shape all fall. Teams not in the 15s season have been out of season and maybe aren’t taking practice as seriously. We’ve been playing 15s, 10s and 7s – as did ASU.”
The team will be led by co-captains Jenn Sever, Maricel Quirindongo-Crespo and Aubrey Huey. Sever and Quirindongo-Crespo were the lead scorers in the Golden Bears' championship run during the Santa Clara 7s tournament. Between the two, they scored 15 tries.
Santa Clara is a good DII team that advanced to nationals last year. They showed good promise when they beat Oregon State, which won the first regional 7s tournament after defeating Cal in the final. In the second tournament, Cal defeated Santa Clara 26-5.
UNC Charlotte also has DII Nationals experience and all but one athlete played in the tournament. Like most teams, UNCC has a relatively raw squad.
"While some of them played 7s over the summer, we didn't officially start a 7s team until this fall," UNCC coach Allie Prickett said. "It makes our team young, but don't count us out. Last year was our first year in matrix, and we went to Nationals."
Meghan Bradsher's amazing speed pings her as the team's major playmaker and she leads UNCC in tries scored. Victoria Ellis is a No. 8 in 15s but moves to scrumhalf in 7s. She never misses a tackle and will prove invaluable at the halfback position. Prickett is eager to see the quick Courtney Jessamy and Maddy Clark - coach's pick for the best hooker on the East Coast - wreak havoc on the pitch.
All told, the teams boasts five North Carolina All Stars, and Clark has also played for the South.
POOL D: NORWICH, OREGON STATE
Even though pool D has only two teams, they're two good teams. Norwich dominates the Northeast DII, while OSU is a solid DI team that won one of the Nor Cal tournaments over Cal.
Norwich has a bevy of well-known athletes in Emily Baugus, Rose Bernheim, Hannah Bushey, Jackie Derocher, Katie Hathaway and Emily Oor. All have caught the attention of national selectors and will anchor the Cadets.
The squad has been preparing for about five weeks now and while the team has never played a proper 7s match, their fitness is top notch and will carry the team late into the tournament.
Oregon State, however, has been playing 7s all season. In addition to bringing on Duffin McShane, the Pacific Coast Collegiate 7s coach, OSU has been playing against their men's team.
OSU defeated Cal in the first 7s tournament 56-0 in the final, though they lost to Santa Clara in pool play. Team captain Hannah Lockwood will lead a relatively experienced squad, whose three freshman have all played high school rugby. Of those three freshmen, USA U20 Eagle Amee Svatos is the team's playmaker. She plays strongside flanker for the junior Eagles and will anchor OSU's scrum at prop.
Caroline Midkiff is also someone to watch. She'll be at center or prop.
"She is a second year player and is very powerful," Lockwood said. "Caroline is someone you do not want to hit you if you have the ball. She will take it and you won't forget what hit you."
Although it's disappointing to have to play each other twice during pool play, game two will be interesting as the squad's will have a chance to adapt to each others' game plans.