Pool E features three teams who’ve been to Nationals and a newcomer. Dartmouth won the Bowl in 2012 and qualified through the Ivy League this fall. Cal Poly won the Cal State Tourney, of a handful of events the Mustangs played in. South Carolina got the Southeastern’s automatic bid. And NC State was handed an at-large after finishing second at the Atlantic Coast.
Pat’s picks: Dartmouth is my pick to win this pool. The Big Green are really experienced, equally talented and former Eagle 7s coach Alex Magleby and current Dartmouth head coach Gavin Hickie make a pretty incomparable coaching tandem. Tough to pick against Madison Hughes when there are only 7 players on the other team to stop him, too. Cal Poly is the clear choice to finish second. The Mustangs are nearly as experienced as Dartmouth, and always put out a good 7s product. NC State is really hampered by injury and having played a full 15s season. For that reason, I pick South Carolina to finish third.
Players to watch: Madison Hughes, Kevin Clarke, Dawitt Workie. Madison Hughes is the total package and pretty widely considered the best collegiate 7s player in America. He is a game changer. Clarke has a lot of high-level 7s experience having scored plenty of tries in the CRC and Nationals before. He’s back for his last year, but has struggled through some injury issues this fall. Workie is a promising freshman from Canada.
Q&A with coach Gavin Hickie
Q: Dawitt Workie has come in and almost immediately won the starting flyhalf spot. It’s not every year s freshman makes that kind of impact at Dartmouth. The last one might have been Madison Hughes. How is Workie, a pretty slight guy, coming along?
A: What’s impressed me most about him this year is he’s made a pretty significant step up from high school rugby up to collegiate rugby. He’s gone against playing 18-year-olds to 22-year-olds. He’s made that step up pretty well. We kind of threw him in the deep end a little bit, while assuring safety, and he’s responded very well.
Q: You guys were one of a few teams who were nipped out of the Cup Quarterfinals due to point differential last year, and you managed to win every game but one and take home the Bowl. Has that experience motivated the guys to have a little more explosive day one?
A: It was obviously very disappointing to lose the first game, but I was very happy with how we respond and winning the Bowl was satisfying. This year, like all tournaments, we go to get into it and to compete and try to win it. That’s our objective, but we’re under no false illusions as to how hard it’s going to be. We’ll see how we sit after day one and hopefully we’re still in it for day two.
Players to watch: Taylor Honnette and Max Tacket. Honnette is a flyhalf in 15s who has increased his speed and agility to become Cal Poly’s leading 7s try scorer. Tacket is a very big, physical center who is great with fends and offloads. In addition, Andy Early and Alex Frost will both be playing in their third-straight National Championships.
Q&A with coach Dave Burnett
Q: You guys have played as many or more tournaments than anyone else in the country this fall, including the Battle in the Bay, which was probably the highest profile and most talent-laden event of the season, and you won the Plate. How did you like the Battle in the Bay?
A: Good for the boys to play that sort of two-day structure like we will this weekend in North Carolina. We had a slow first day, but came back and played well against a very good Arizona State side and played well against San Diego State.
Q: Do you think playing in so many events will pay dividends for you this weekend?
A: We’ve had a good fall. A lot of tournaments, but that’s we want to play it…We want o play in as many as we can. It’s all about game practice, game fitness. You can’t simulate that, and you can’t simulate game pressure and tournament pressure. So we tried to play as much rugby as we could.
Players to watch: Tim Hamill, Colin McKeon, Brian Keown. Brian is the scrumhalf, Colin usually lines up at flyhalf or center, and Tim is the wing. Hamill can finish with speed, and McKeon and Keown are workhorses who get to breakdowns and create continuity.
Q&A with coach Steve Darnell
Q: We haven’t seen South Carolina play in one of the big 7s events before, like Nationals, the CRC or in Las Vegas. What’s different this year for the Gamecocks?
A: We got serious. That’s the long and short of it. Asked them to commit to the training and to the work that it would take to get to this point, and they responded rather well. That’s really the first time that we’ve done that. We’ve always sort of done the 15s and if we got a chance to work on 7s, we would and then go to the SEC, and that was about it. This year we took it very seriously, and I think we’ll continue to do that. They’ve got a taste of it, and there are a number of players who really enjoy it.
Q: What do you think of your pool and how you stack up?
A: All the pools are difficult, but I like where we are. Looking at Cal Poly, and if we play a game without any mistakes and we can catch them on their heels a couple of times, we can have a chance with it. That;s a team I look at it and say if we play them five or six times, we might win one of those games. If we can keep them on their heels and keep possession, I think we have a bit of a chance against them. They don’t play dissimilar to what we play. We play very aggressive defense, work it up the middle and then spin it to the outside. Dartmouth may be one out of 20, but I feel really good about how we match up against State.
Players to watch: Dominick Goldston is the Wolfpack’s best and most experienced 7s player. He is and athletic, strong, runner and tackler. He’s one of four CRC veterans on the team. Brandon Alvey and Martin Gerlach, the starting halfbacks, were injured in training this week in a collision with one another. They would have added some more depth and experience.
Q&A with coach Robert McAllister
Q: You’ve been really pummeled with injuries. How will you bounce back for Nationals?
A: What we’re going to do is plug some young guys in, get them some experience, show them what it takes to play at that level, and hopefully they’ll catch fire and want to do that in the future.
Q: You guys will be playing as close to home as anyone in the tournament, as you’re the only North Carolina team in the event. Guys excited about that?
A: All of our kids are from North Carolina, so it makes it possible for the parents to see them at a national level tournament without having to expend a lot of money. They’re excited about that. They’re excited about representing the ACRL as one of the two teams, and we’ll see where it leads.