Players turn to club sevens to improve their game over the summer

D1A Rugby: Players turn to club sevens to improve their game over the summer
Photo Credit: Karen Drinkwater (right)

LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Few college teams carry organized team activities into the summer months, creating a three-month void between the spring championship events and the opening of fall training sessions. For student-athletes serious about improving their skills ahead of next season, it often means traveling abroad to immerse themselves in a high-performance rugby environment, or linking up with a competitive club team for a summer of sevens.

Sixteenth-ranked Wisconsin won the 2016 Big Ten Universities 7s Series, and now many of the Badgers can’t get enough of the code that will be re-introduced to the Olympics when the USA Men’s and Women’s Eagles compete for gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Brothers Hunter and Tyler Crass, Dane Fleck, Luke Henricks, Gabe Kinzer, Ben Lehrmann, and Dan Pettay are all running with the Milwaukee Rugby this summer.

Milwaukee isn’t in the hunt for a Midwest spot to the 2016 Club 7s National Championships at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo., but the Chicago Lions appear more than capable of claiming one of two regional places to the Championships in August. The Lions have won each of their first two qualifying events, and look primed for their ninth consecutive appearance at Nationals, and Indiana’s Tyler Graham will be along for the ride. The senior eight man has been a massive piece to the Hoosiers back rom the past few years, and hopes he can use his combination of size and athleticism to make an impact for Chicago this summer.

Olympic Club of the Pacific Rugby Premiership and Old Blue of the American Rugby Premiership both have their sights on Nationals, and have received boosts by players from the University of Arizona. Wildcat center Shane Dempsey is back playing with an Old Blue side that has won each of the first two Atlantic North qualifying events. Likewise, Olympic Club is off to a good stat this summer after taking first prize at Marin 7s and sharing the top spot with Life West at Sacramento 7s. The PRP side has a few impressive club stalwarts and former Eagles in Colin Hawley and Rikus Pretorius, but are also giving young players like Arizona’s Jonah Eldridge a chance on Northern California’s biggest sevens stage.

“Summer sevens is big for us,” explained Arizona Head Coach Sean Duffy. “It gives the guys a chance to get a change of pace, get some different exposure, play in a tough environment and grow.”

Duffy also believes it’s not only the college-grade players who profit from a summer of sevens alongside a senior club team.

“It benefits the men’s clubs as well, showing players the great things about senior level rugby, and makes them think hard about which club to play for upon graduation.”

One club that will be competing with Olympic Club for a Northern California bid to Club 7s National in Colorado is San Francisco Golden Gate Rhinos. As he did a summer ago, Saint Mary’s captain and game-winning hero of the Gaels’ Cup Final win at the 2016 College 7s National Championships Kevin O’Connor will don Golden Gate’s green and white kit. The Rhinos weren’t able to qualify for Nationals last year, but O’Connor’s good individual form placed him on San Francisco’s team that competed at the 2015 Limerick World Club 7s in Ireland. A pair of Saint Mary’s grads, Bubba Jones and Tim Maupin, joined O’Connor on the San Francisco side at Limerick World Club 7s, as did Utah alum Don Pati.

It’s not only men who are finding club rosters to join over the summer, but some seriously talented players from the women’s collegiate game are just as passionate about bettering their rugby skills via the club sevens circuit. And what better place to improve one’s skills than with reigning Club 7s National Champion American Rugby Pro Training Center? The Olympic Development Academy has recruited several players from D1A Elite programs including Penn State’s Sophie Pyrz, Lindenwood’s Ariana Lewis and Hope Nesbitt, as well as College 7s National Champion Christina Swift of Life University.

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