|KSU's Kenny Scott in Action for the Blues. Clifton photo|
The sixth qualifying tournament for USA Rugby’s inaugural college 7s championship takes place Saturday in Norman, Okla., where traditional Big XII schools meet in a competition born out of the old Big XII 15s tournament.
“This tournament has given everyone a lot of great memories through the years. It was always great to get people from different regions who never got to see each other in normally,” said Oklahoma coach and tournament organizer Kenny Forehand. “Now, the stakes are higher, and it will be great to see the traditional rivals go at it for a national berth.”
OU, Texas, Texas A&M and Kansas State are expected to be the tournament frontrunners, as all have done relatively well in warm-up events. OU has the most cred, winning two ancillary events. A&M, though, is the probable host of the national championship tournament to be held Dec. 16-17, and it's never fun hosting a tournament in which you're not playing, so the Aggies will be starving for an automatic qualification.
The Longhorns knocked off OU in front of NBC’s cameras in June, and the Sooners returned the favor this fall in the final of A&M 7s, the same tournament in which the Aggies beat OU in pool play but lost to the Sooners in the knockout stages. Kansas State suffered the same fate at the Heart of America conference tournament, beating the Sooners in pool play only to lose to them in the final.
K-State’s entrance into 7s may have come a year too late, as Dan Knapp and Joe D’Agostino, who have years of 7s experience playing with the Kansas City Blues, graduated in May. D’Agostino played for the West all star 7s team in 2010.
So did Kenny Scott, who has been the Blues 7s team’s most potent scoring threat the last couple of summers. Scott is still a Wildcat, and he’s been trying to catch his team up on the nuances of the abbreviated game.
“Right now, it’s more just letting the guys experience something new. Not a lot of people know a lot about 7s rugby or the strategy behind it,” said Scott. “It’s a different game when you get out there – it’s faster paced, your fitness really gets tested, your skills, and tackling is one major thing we kind of pride ourselves on that we need to showcase this weekend.”
One K-State newcomer who figures to factor in this weekend is Matt Dierks, a former Kansas City Jr. Blue.
“He came up and he really hasn’t missed a beat at all transitioning from different levels,” said Scott. “He still needs to learn to be a bit more vocal and observe the field a little bit and not just pick the ball up and run like a chicken with his head cut off. He should make a big contribution this weekend.”
Can any of these teams earn a an at-large bid to the national event should they lose this weekend? It would appear Oklahoma would have a definite chance if they finish in the top four, since they have already won two warm-up events, beating this tournament's heaviest hitters. Texas, A&M and K-State could also be on the bubble if they finish second this weekend.