After two rounds in the Men's USA Rugby Collegiate 7s Championships in Greensboro, NC, the top teams are making themselves very obvious.
Arkansas State, Life, Dartmouth, St. Mary's, Central Washington, and Lindenwood are among the elite, with Navy, Air Force, and others chasing. Arkansas State is a big, athletic team that communicates well and they dominated Florida and North Texas.
ASU is set to face Oregon State for tops in Pool A, but while OSU is undefeated, they won both games by close margins while ASU won comfortably against the same opposition.
"We've got a lot of things we've been trying to work on as a team, mental errors, little things, some tackling," said Arkansas State's Harry Higgins. "We've got much more reliable depth in our team now. We've got guys we fully trust in our game plan and our structure and it's made us stronger."
In Pool B, St. Mary's had likely their sternest test in Round 2 against Arizona State. The Sun Devils looked solid against Oklahoma, while St. Mary's sped past Middle Tennessee State. Against each other, the game was competitive. ASU stung St. Mary's early led by Adam Sandstrom and John Varvara. But Garrett Brewer and Cooper Maloney torched Arizona State for tries and later on the Gaels pulled away 33-17.
In Pool C, Lindenwood and Air Force are playing well, with Air Force registering the bigger scores so far. Lindenwood, however, is a big, strong team with a lot of talent.
"We always have something to work on but we have come a long way and we've learned a lot," said Seru Rabeni, former pro who is coaching the Lindenwood 7s team. "The guys have been excellent and we have guys who want to play at the level we want."
In Pool D, Central Washington thundered past San Jose State, although the more pessimistic observers might have thought they were thinking "try" before they were thinking "rugby."
Still, CWU is set to clash with Davenport, who beat San Jose State and Auburn easily, blistering both with more pace than they could handle.
Pool E seems to be all Dartmouth, despite two worrying injuries to some important players.
"Any time a teammate goes down it's upsetting, and you don't want to see them in pain," said Dartmouth's Madison Hughes. "But we know they wouldn't want us to stop and lose our focus, so we just kept playing. Both of the teams made us work hard, and we made a lot more basic errors in our structures and our skills than we would have liked. We know Cal Poly will be a tough game and we will need to make a big step up to get where we want to be."
Cal Poly is also 2-0, and should they make their tackles and corral Hughes, they have a shot.
Finally, Pool F is Life and Navy. Both are 2-0, with Navy's Jack McAuliffe making some impressive plays hurdling tacklers, and Life getting a boost from Joe Cowley flying in from being with the USA team in London.
"He has missed two weeks of training, but he's a good addition for us," said Life Head Coach Tui Osborne.
Meanwhile, Navy's Ricky Neel-Feller was circumspect in his assessment of his team.
"We played well, and we were pushed by two good teams," he said. "This is a national championship and there are good teams here. We know Life will be tough."
So the chase now will be for one of two wild card spots. The six pool winners make the quarterfinals, and then the top two second-place teams. This sets up some key matchups in Round 3.
Air Force or Lindenwood could well get a wild card slot. Cal Poly is also in a strong position, but will need to at least get close to Dartmouth, something few teams can do.
Davenport v. Central Washington could be another game where the winner gets a quarterfinal spot, and the loser does, too.