Texas won the Southwest Conference’s 7s Championship Saturday, punching its ticket to USA Rugby’s College 7s National Championships in Greensboro, NC Nov. 23-24.
The SWC Championship was the third of three conference tournaments this fall, with the first two supplying seeds for the Championship.
North Texas was the only team to beat Texas in three tournaments, and the Longhorns beat North Texas twice Saturday to claim the hardware. Texas beat Lamar 36-0, Rice 34-5, UNT 22-15 and then UNT again 43-14.The
Coming into the final, UNT actually had a first-round bye so the number of matches was even at that point in the day, even though UNT had to win its way through the loser’s bracket in the double elimination tournament. And the hot Texas sun was mild, helping to produce and exciting and open match. The score was knotted 14-14 at the half through two long range tries for each team. Texas showed its fitness and determination running in 29 unanswered points to finish out the game.
Junior Taylor Hayes led Texas with 7 tries and one conversion on the day for a haul of 37 points. Hayes has been a U20 Trialist for the USA and in the Canadian age-grade system for years. He excited the crowd and proved a tough assignment for defenses all day.
"Taylor is a really sound 7s player. He's worked hard, and coupled with his natural talents, he's really limited his mistakes this year,” said Texas 7s coach Jacob Lieberman. “He is a rare player who can be a strike weapon and distributor and that helps us unlock our outside players.”
It wasn’t a one-man show, as senior Noah Villalobos ran five tries in on the day for 25 points. It was Villalobos’ first tournament of the year and his veteran leadership showed.
"Noah is an Academic All-American and one of the hardest training players on the team,” said Lieberman. “We missed him but now we are really happy to have him back."
Villalobos made the game changing tackle in the final and was a physical presence all day.
Jeremy Maranitch, who is the team captain and a four-year player for Lieberman, was lost in the semifinal to an ankle injury and was gutted he could not finish his last SWC tournament. Maranitch has become quite the playmaker and his restarts and goal kicking were a big loss.
"Jeremy exemplifies what Texas Rugby is," said assistant coach Mickey Johnson. "He trains hard and really prepares mentally for the games. He's the best defender we have, and he's a terrific student athlete. He has a lot to be proud of".
The Longhorns also have a strong contingent of newcomers with Emmanuel Nwoko, sophomore (20pts), Felix Olazaron, freshman (17pts) and Reed Hogan, freshman (5pts) contributing. Olazaron has been in the Mexican National 7s pool and has added an instant smoothness to the Longhorn game. Hogan was the Rugby Texas High School Forward of the Year in 2013 and is already at the aggression and physicality level of much older players.
Texas used 14 players in its last tournament, proving it's depth, and the development work by coaches Lieberman and Johnson. Lieberman spent the summer under the guidance of former USA coach Al Caravelli as video analyst for the Philippines National team at the World Cup in Moscow.
Texas now sets its sights on the National Championship in November and hopes to continue into the Collegiate Rugby Championship in Spring 2014.
"7s has become a yearly development process, and we are lucky to have been involved in both the CRC and USA National Championship in the last several years,” said Lieberman.
“The players put in an immense amount of work and getting to represent our conference, state and most importantly the University of Texas, is a fantastic reward"
2013 Texas 7's Squad