LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The interest and quality of play in sevens amongst the conferences in Men’s Division II has been growing at an exciting rate. As evidence, the Men’s DII field at the 2016 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships has increased to 16 teams after the bracket saw an increase from eight sides in 2013 to a dozen last year.
The bump from 12 teams to 16 has not watered down the competition, either. Reigning College 7s National Champion James Madison will be competing May 27-29 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., but the Dukes will be doing so at the Division I level after moving up a division in the offseason.
Wisconsin-Whitewater, the team James Madison defeated in last year’s Cup Final, makes its return to College 7s, as do the rest of the 2015 Cup Semifinalists: Saint Louis and three-time reigning 15s National Champion Minnesota-Duluth.
Pool A: North Carolina -Wilmington, Texas-San Antonio, U.S. Coast Guard, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Rugby fans would be hard-pressed to name rugby teams that have been more consistent in recent years than Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Warhawks have reached the DII National Championship Final in 15s the past two years, only to fall to Minnesota-Duluth. Whitewater was again close to hoisting a first-place trophy, this time in sevens, but James Madison’s dominant second half in the Cup Final reserved another runners-up finish for the Warhawks.
Two of Whitewater’s Pool A foes, UNC-Wilmington and the Coast Guard, return from 2015’s College 7s in Denver where they combined for 4-2 record in pool play. While Wilmington and College 7s newcomer UT-San Antonio reach Nationals as at-larges, the Coast Guard Academy earned automatic entry thanks to a tournament victory at the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference Championship.
The Warhawks, on the other hand, were the only DII squad to win multiple qualifying events this year, including Upper Midwest 7s during the first weekend of May – so the team should be sharp.
Pool B: Minnesota-Duluth, Niagara, Principia, Tulane
Minnesota-Duluth might have three National Championship trophies on display in its award case, but do not think Bulldogs are satisfied. Duluth appeared on course for a place in the Cup Final after starting the 2015 College 7s 4-0 while accumulating a plus-131 point differential. Instead, Whitewater nipped the Bulldogs by a single point in the Cup Semifinals. The disappointing loss did not keep the team’s head down for long, as the Bulldogs bounced back nicely to end the tournament with a convincing win over St. Louis to place third overall. This year, the champions of 15s will head back to Nationals having won Fool’s Fest 7s.
Duluth is not the lone National Champion in Pool B. Principia won the Men’s 2013 National Championship, but under performed during last year’s pool play – including a 38-0 blanking handed out by Duluth.
Niagara and Tulane will be making their first College 7s National Championship appearance, but after tournament victories at the New Orleans Collegiate 7s and the Upstate New York 7s, respectfully, the two look like viable candidates to reach this weekend’s Cup Quarterfinals.
Pool C: Lindenwood-Belleville, Saint Louis, UMass Lowell, Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Saint Louis is the only squad from Pool C that has previously competed in a College 7s National Championship. The Billikens are back at Nationals for good reason, too. The Gateway Conference representatives placed fourth in last year’s event and their only two losses came to eventual 7s National Champion James Madison and the 15s National Champion, Minnesota-Duluth. In fact, Saint Louis won its pool by topping eventual Finalist Wisconsin-Whitewater, 25-5.
UMass Lowell is new to the National stage, but showed well in April when it won Rugby Northeast 7s over Bentley in the Final. The River Hawks will have to battle Wisconsin Eau-Claire and Lindenwood-Belleville for advancement to the Cup rounds.
Eau-Claire earned an at-large bid to Nationals after competing well in a number of automatic qualifying events. The team comes out of the Midwest, which is currently the most competitive region for Men’s DII rugby, and is used to battling with the likes of Whitewater and Duluth.
Belleville was not at Nationals last year because the school didn’t have a rugby program last year. However, after hiring Pat Clifton to jumpstart the program in January of 2015, the program quickly tied up a roster of players from eight different states for its inaugural season and ended the fall with an 11-2 record and appearance in the National Quarterfinals.
The Lynx of Lindenwood have taken to sevens as quickly as they have taken to 15s. In March, the team reached the Cup Semifinals of its host tournament, as well as placing second behind Wisconsin-Whitewater at the Upper Midwest 7s.
Pool D: Rowan, Salisbury, Salve Regina, The Citadel
Salisbury is one of the most decorated DII programs in the country in 15s. Now the Sharks are looking to join the division’s elite in sevens, as well. During the spring, Salisbury played in four Capital Conference 7s tournaments, winning the first. During the series of tournaments, the Sharks were able to pick up victories over some solid competition, including scalps of Division I teams like James Madison and Maryland.
None of the three teams Salisbury must deal with in Pool C played in a College 7s National Championship, but each earned its way in by winning automatic qualifying events this year. Rowan reached the National Quarterfinals in 15s in the fall, then went on to win the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Conference 7s title in April.
Salve Regina has quietly been building a very solid program in Rhode Island. Soon after winning the 2012 NSCRO National Championship, Salve Regina moved into DII and the Colonial Conference. After beating Endicott in the Final of the Colonial Conference’s sevens tournament, the Seahawks qualify themselves for College 7s Nationals.
The Citadel used continued improvement to earn its way to Nationals. Playing in the Southern Rugby Conference 7s Series, the Bulldogs settled for Plate trophies in the first two stops. The third leg produced an appearance in the Cup Final, but The Citadel saved its best for last. At April 16’s fourth and final SRC stop, The Citadel topped another College 7s competitor, UNC Wilmington, in the Cup Final for an automatic berth to Nationals.
Pool play for the Men’s Division II College 7s National Championships begins Friday, May 27, at 6:20 p.m. ET. Pool play will continue into Saturday before knockout stages begin in the afternoon. Whichever two sides can advance beyond the Cup Quarterfinals and Semifinals will play in May 29’s Men’s DII Cup Final scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET. A full schedule for the 2016 USA College 7s National Championships can be viewed here.
Every one of the 167 games at the 2016 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships, including in the 10,000-seat stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, will be broadcast and aired free of charge on The Rugby Channel.