Top club sides inject D1A talent for sevens

D1A Rugby: Top club sides inject D1A talent for sevens
Photo Credit: JD Black - Tiger Rugby players Kingsley McGowan & JP Eloff

BOULDER, Colo. – The rising temperatures and completion of USA Rugby’s Club Championships in 15s has unofficially marked the beginning of the summer sevens season. For several D1A Rugby student-athletes, this time of year means transferring their registration in order to join a senior club team for a summer of competitive sevens.

While the summer months provide plenty of opportunities for rugby players to break a sweat and have some fun in social tournaments, it’s not surprising college rugby’s elite competition will see several of its players link up with some of the very best club teams in the country.

Three of the four teams that reached the 2014 Club 7s National Championship Semifinals, including the Kansas City Blues, will lean on talent out of D1A Rugby to make another run at a National Championship. The Blues, whose third-place finish last August came as a bit of a surprise, will be poised for another big summer after adding the likes of College 7s National Champions Mike DeSouto, Morgan Findlay, Sebastian Kalm, and Lunaile Tshuma of Lindenwood University.

Year-in, year-out contender Belmont Shore, which finished fourth in the 2014 Nationals, will also benefit from the addition of Lions Giovanni Falco and Cam Reed – both of whom started in Lindenwood’s 28-10 win over Davenport in the College 7s Men’s DI Cup Final.

Old Blue of New York, the team that bounced Kansas City in the National Semifinals, has also called on a few D1A student-athletes to bolster its roster. Michael Al-Jiboori, a senior center with Oklahoma, has traded in his Denver Barbarians green for New York’s black and blue. Coming off of his sophomore season with the Arizona Wildcats, full back Shane Dempsey has also found a temporary home with Old Blue, as has Onye Onwukanjo – a loose forward entering his junior season at Davenport.

Onwukanjo isn’t even the only D1A player in his family swapping kit over the summer. Onwukanjo’s older brother, Ike, is a winger for Buffalo who has earned a spot on Nigeria’s national sevens team, and helped the Black Stallions qualify for November’s regional qualifier in Johannesburg, South Africa for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In the Midwest, 1823 and the Chicago Lions both finished in the top 10 at the 2014 Club 7s National Championships, and each has an eye on improved finishes in 2015. In order to do so, 1823 has tabbed Ohio State’s Santino Cua and Luke Hickey for its program, while the Chicago Lions expect impacts from Davenport centers Sondai Adjei and Mike Houston.

Select sides are another great way for players to garnish recognition, while also competing in an atmosphere that suits them best. For instance, active-duty military ruggers receive immense pride in representing military select sides. This summer, two Zoomies and All-West Conference standouts Calvin Johnson and Victor Woo will compete with the US Air Force Selects, while All-Mid-West center Anthony Welmers and Life winger Tyrus Baytops will take the pitch as part of the US Army Selects – which will be led by Utah Director of Rugby Mark Drown.

One Olympic Development Academy that always seems to select imposing sides for a host of international sevens tournaments is Tiger Rugby. A busy summer slate for the men and women at Tiger begins this Saturday at Cancun Sevens, where Head Coach James Walker and Academy Director Paul Holmes will blood AIG Men’s Collegiate All-American and Saint Mary’s standout Kingsley McGowan.

“I’ve always been impressed with Kingsley’s work ethic,” exclaimed Walker. “When I finally got to meet him in Chula Vista at one of the Eagles High Performance Camps, he struck me as a great guy, very coachable, and most importantly he embodies the values we have as a club.”

Making his return to Tiger in Cancun is the heart and soul of Davenport’s impressive 2015 campaign in 15s and sevens – JP Eloff.

“JP is a tremendous talent and athlete,” Walker described. “In my opinion, I think he still needs to find his best position, but he has the mental makeup to play international rugby.”

Joining the Collegiate All-Americans on tour to Mexico is Wes Parker. The loose forward just finished his first year on campus at Lindenwood, but has impressed the coaching staff with his physicality during his time spent training at the Tiger Rugby Academy in Columbus, Ohio.

Like all tours under the watchful eye of Walker and Holmes, the objective is to provide rugby players the platform to improve their game and potentially get recognized for national team selection.

“It’s absolutely the ultimate goal,” stated Walker. “We want to get these athletes through the system and into the national team, or in a position to sign a professional contract.”

All of this summer’s club sevens action will build towards the 2015 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships. This year, the two-day National Championship event will take place Aug. 8-9 at the James W. Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines, Iowa.