NCRC National Collegiate 7’s Qualifier – Seattle Memorial Stadium – October 20, 2012

When the whistle went at 8:40 am to start the first match in the Northwest Collegiate Rugby Conference (NCRC) National 7’s qualifier tournament it was a raw and blustery fall day at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium.

Memorial Stadium, located on the Seattle Center grounds, has seen better days.  Built who knows when, but before the Seattle World’s Fair, which opened in 1962, we were cautioned NOT to fill our water coolers from any spigot located in the stadium.

A crumbling concrete structure, a rock hard astro-turf field, and bad plumbing, testify to the hard times that have befallen Seattle Public Schools who maintain the structure.   And yet the contrasts in the area are hard to miss.  The venerable old stadium (whose knickers were clearly showing) is surrounded by some spectacular new architecture like the EMP building, McCaw Hall, the iconic Space Needle, and the new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation across the street.  And I’m not going to even mention the new glass recycling center below the Space Needle.

And the stadium’s east-west orientation was perfect for channeling the sometimes brisk weather that swooped in from the southwest.

But none of that seemed to affect the twelve teams that showed up to play for the title at the NCRC 7’s Tournament and the automatic qualifying bid to the USA National 7’s Tourney that went with it.

The 12 teams were divided into 4 pools of 3 and at the end of pool play all would be re-seeded for the knockout rounds based on the results of pool play.  The pools looked like this at the beginning of the day:

Pool A             Pool B             Pool C             Pool D

CWU               WWU              EWU               OSU

UO                  WSU                UI                    UW

WOU              BSU                 ISU                  UPS

So Central and Western Oregon got the ball rolling on pool play at 8:40 and everything went smoothly through pool play that ended with the UW v UPS match at 12:20 pm.

As the day wore on there were a few surprises in pool, with the teams in Pool C taking turns knocking each other off, and the continued emergence of the UW 7’s program, led by former Chuckanut Bay U-19 player, Jacob Santos.  Coach Kevin Swyrin has his Husky 7’s team looking ready to break through.

After pool play there was a bit of a surprise in that the no.1 seed (CWU) going in got re-seeded no. 2, after WWU went through pool play undefeated and got re-seeded no. 1 based on point differential.  But none of that had much affect on anything.

Central steamrolled their way through to the final, with Western doing much the same, with the exception of an overtime stumble against OSU in the semi finals.

Central had beaten Western Oregon, 26 – 0 and Oregon, 47 – 5 in pool play and then beaten WSU in the quarters, 50 – 0, and UW in the semi-final, 55 – 0.

Western matched Central’s record by beating Boise State, 40 – 0, and WSU, 31 – 0.  In the quarters Western took it to Oregon, 52 – 5, and, in the semi-final, got by Oregon State in a 22 – 17 overtime thriller.

Louie Henson with Pat Phelps and Nick Solimano in support
Geoff Vlcek photo / www.facebook.com/GVPhotography

The Oregon State match also hurt Western in a big way in that Matt Tiscornia, one of Western’s quiet leaders, hurt his ankle in the first half and had to be helped from the field.  Western, however, who have more depth in their line-up than ever this year, moved on and closed out OSU.

Matt Tiscornia, tackled by WSU’s Casey Smith, hands off to Pat Phelps
Geoff Vlcek photo / www.facebook.com/GVPhotography

So the final was set, Western and Central, again.  The rivalry between schools that goes back decades in every sport in which they compete.  And the Western – Central rivalry in rugby is no different.

Western have been working extremely hard since the beginning of the summer to get back to this point, enduring 6:00 am workouts during the week, playing in 7’s tourneys in BC over the summer, and committing to do the extra work to get back to the Nationals.

Western were looking forward to their first match-up of the year with Central at the Oregon State Tourney on September 29, 2012 in Corvallis, but were mysteriously never invited to the OSU Tourney.  So Western had to wait until the Palouse 7’s in Pullman, October 6, 2012 for the long awaited match-up.

The script for the Palouse 7’s was much like the script for the NCRC’s.  Central rolling into the final along with Western.  In that final Central struck first, then Western scored twice to lead most of the 1sthalf, with Central scoring towards the end to bring the score even, 12 – 12, at half.  Despite eventually losing the match 29 – 12, Western knew then, they could compete with Central.

Matt Jensen and Jake Romano closing in on a Central player
Geoff Vlcek photo / www.facebook.com/GVPhotography

With that knowledge, Western began preparations for the NCRC’s with renewed vigor and optimism.  Pushing themselves in the 6:00 am workouts run by Coach Adam Roberts on Mondays and Wednesdays, along with the 15’s training sessions, led by Coach Paul Horne on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, fitness would not be an issue.

And the final began, and Central continued their roll.  They scored early and often and led at the half 29 – 0.  Central played really good 7’s rugby; they were disciplined in their approach and frustrated Western who couldn’t seem to get anything going until late in the second half when they scored two converted trys to bring the final score to 46 – 14.

Now the Vikings must wait the results of the rest of the National qualifier tournaments, which will be completed by November 11, 2012, to see if they will get an at-large bid to the National Tournament.

The good news in all of this is that two Western players were selected to the NCRC All Tournament team.  Gavri Grossman, who scored 44 points (8 trys and 2 conversions),  was second in tournament scoring to, Quinton Willms, who led all tournament scorers with 46 points (4 trys and 13 conversions).

The team will continue their workouts in hopes that their record and accomplishments will earn them another at-large bid to the USA National Collegiate 7’s Tournament to be held at Texas A&M University, at College Station, Texas on November 30th and December 1, 2012.

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