|LSU finished second to Tennessee last year. Clifton photo|
Tennessee hosts the second-annual SEC 7s tournament Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. The winner earns an automatic bid to the inaugural USA Rugby 7s national championship in December. 11 of the 12 traditional SEC schools are sending a team.
Vanderbilt hosts a fall tournament every year, and the only weekend they could secure the facilities to host the 2011 rendition fell on the 24th, so they’ll be a few miles west playing in that.
LSU and Tennessee are most people’s picks to win, as Tennessee beat LSU in the finals a year ago, but both have lost significant talent over the summer. The Tigers graduated Bobby Johns, Adam Ducoing and Cullen Glennon, the trio that drove LSU to success the last four seasons. In their absence, Paul Rogers, Jeff Levasseur and Janek Savage will have to score points.
Tennessee didn’t take as big a hit, but the Vols are without playmaker Benji Goff. Sammy Anderson, who like Goff has experience playing 7s at NYAC under the guiding eyes of Eagles 7s coach Al Caravelli, does return.
So does Nick Evans, who made the South 7s All Star squad last year.
“He’s a guy that needs to step up,” said UT coach Marty Bradley. “We had him at flyhalf last year, and that’s probably not his best suited position, so we’re going to look at moving him back, getting him on the edge this year, and that should help us out. We’re looking for big things this year from Nick.”
Florida is another team with big-time 7s experience, as the Gators competed in the 2010 Collegiate Rugby Championship in front of the NBC cameras. But gone for Florida are RUGBYMag All American prop Darryl Meckley, center Corey Penca and fullback Matias Groetaers.
The biggest recruiting win for Florida this offseason? Keeping the graduating Brett Stubbs on campus for grad school. He still has another year of eligibility, and he’ll be a key member of the Gators 7s squad.
Argentine fullback Lucas Baistroche will step in for Groetaers.
“He basically has been Matias’ understudy the last couple years,” said UF coach Ken Simmons. “Played flyhalf in the championship series last year. He’s got a good foot, and he’s actually a good tackler and a good playmaker.”
Outside of the big three, who has the best chance to make a splash? It might be Georgia, who has been actively putting in 7s work since before classes started.
“They’re taking it pretty seriously. They came back before school started and did two-a-days. They ran in the morning and trained in the afternoon sort of thing,” said coach Doug Porter.
“We’ve played in a few tournaments and done reasonably well. Probably the best game we’ve played is one we’ve lost (to New Orleans in Panama City), but sometimes you raise the competition you play and you find out more about yourself. But we’re excited about SECs. We think we have a chance. The guys have certainly worked their tails off.”
Even though prized sophomore and U20 Eagle Will Farrell, who made the SEC 7s all tournament team as a freshman last year, leads the pack, the Bulldogs are far from a one-dog sled team. Harrison Lavery is an athletic talent, and Sam Trammel is worth keeping an eye out for.
At time of print, the pools and schedule for SEC 7s were unavailable.