Clubs begin to separate themselves from pack following recent Club 7s qualifiers

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - The 2016 USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships at Dick's Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo., are less than a month away. Teams like Orlando Women's Rugby and Atlanta Old White, and Miami on the men's side, have qualified for regional championship tournaments. Other squads like National Development Academies American Rugby Pro Training Center and Rugby Utah look poised to not only earn a spot at the Aug. 13-14 National Championships outside of Denver, but do some serious damage once they get to Dick's Sporting Good Park.

Atlantic North

Hell Gate 7s - New York, NY

The usual suspects from the men's premiere division in the Atlantic North again reached the Semifinals of the latest qualifying event, Hell Gate 7s, but this time it was Mystic River claiming first place.

The Division I National Champions in 15s beat Old Blue in the Semifinals to set up a Final against New York Athletic Club - which bested the Connecticut Bulldogs in its Semifinal fixture. In the end, it was Mystic River's defense that led it to the top prize and 22 Atlantic North qualifying points by blanking NYAC, 24-0.

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The win inches Mystic to just three points behind Old Blue for the No. 1 seed in the region, though Mystic will be wise to keep one eye on NYAC. Athletic Club is just five points behind Mystic heading into this weekend's fourth and final qualifying stage, where the top two teams at the end of July 16's Saratoga 7s will advance to the Club 7s National Championships.

The women's side of the Atlantic North has been a one-way street, however, with Old Blue fending off the competition at will. This past weekend at Hell Gate 7s was no different as the 2014 Club 7s National Champion runner-up squashed the competition once again.

Frontier

Heartland 7s - Kansas City, MO

Rugby Utah's National Development Academy all but wrapped up a spot to Nationals by winning its second consecutive Frontier Qualifier, this time at the Heartland 7s in Kansas City. Two weeks after beating Kansas City Blues in the Final of Denver 7s, it was the Denver Barbarians that took a crack at the Utah NDA in the Finals. After falling in pool play to Rugby Utah's elite training squad, 26-12, the Barbarians showed better in the Cup Final, but it was Utah making it two-for-two in the Frontier Sevens Series by denying Denver, 24-21.

Tied for second in the regional competition with one leg remaining, the Barbarians and Blues will battle for Frontier's second entry to Finals at July 23's Pioneer 7s in Salt Lake City.

Mid-Atlantic

NOVA Ruggerama 7s

The Scion Rugby Academy side did not relinquish a single point until the Final of the women's premier bracket at Ruggerama 7s. After three pool matches and a Semifinal accumulated a plus-127 point differential for Scion, the National Development Academy out of Washington, D.C., topped Northern Virginia Rugby in the Final, 29-12. NOVA's top team of the two entered at Ruggerama was also undefeated heading into the Final, but did not have the gas in the tank to overcome a Scion team hoping to improve on its 11th-place finish at last summer's National Championship tournament.

Mid-Atlantic 15s rivals Rocky Gorge and Schuylkill River met in the Final of the men's Ruggerama bracket. Neither squad had an easy pathway to the title match, as teams like the Baltimore-Chesapeake Brumbies and NOVA played very well. In fact, eventual Ruggerama winner Rocky Gorge was fortunate to find itself in the Semifinals after a pool play tie to Norfolk Blues and followed that decision with a loss to Schuylkill River.

However, Rocky Gorge would hit its stride in the afternoon. A narrow, 12-10, win over NOVA set up a rematch with Schuylkill in the Final when the region's Champion in 15s redeemed itself with its best performance of the day - a 40-26 triumph for Rocky Gorge and a tie for first place in the Mid-Atlantic race for Nationals.

Midwest

Rock 'n' Roll 7s - Mentor, OH

1823 Rugby made it two-for-two in the Eastern portion of the Midwest qualifiers. Depth for the Ohio-based training squad continues to be a strength, as its second side wound up in the Final at this past weekend's event in Mentor, Ohio.

Semifinalists Cincinnati Wolfhounds and Pittsburgh hoped to crash 1823's party in the Rock 'n' Roll title match, but it was not meant to be. Another win for 1823's 'A' side secured its place in the July 30 Midwest Conference Championship, even though the region's Eastern teams still have July 23's Rock Hard 7s to which they can look forward. 1823 will no doubt be the Rock Hard favorites, but look for the Cleveland Crusaders and Wolfhounds to leave it all out on the pitch as they try and position themselves in what will be a competitive Midwest Championship at month's end.

Pacific North

Can-Am 7s - Bellingham, WA

A bit of an upset ended the women's half of the Can-Am 7s. Oregon Sports Union, which failed to qualify for Nationals last summer, downed 2015 Cup Finalists Seattle Saracens to take first place over the weekend. After barely escaping Seattle's second side to open pool play, ORSU built moment as the day wore on. In the Semifinals, ORSU upended the Bayside Sharks before slaying the two-time Club 15s DI National Champion in the Final.

Similar to 1823 in the Midwest, it was an all-Seattle Saracens Final of the men's Can-Am division. The reigning Club 7s National Champions made quick work of the competition leading up to a Final that never kicked off in Bellingham. Instead. Seattle No. 2 forfeited the last game of the afternoon to its club mates, Seattle No. 1.

Silicon Valley 7s - Mountain View, CA

Round robin play between some of Northern California's finest clubs produced three teams sporting 3-1 records. However, it was Life West that earned first-place points towards Pacific North 7s Championships due to its accumulation of the best point differential.

The East Palo Alto Razorbacks, which opened the day with a win over the Gladiators, also finished 3-1, as did Olympic Club. San Francisco's O-Club began the day with wins over the Razorbacks, San Jose, and East Bay, but could not complete the four-match sweep when it faced Life West at day's end. A victory over the Gladiators would have given Olympic Club Silicon bragging rights, but instead it was Life West pulling off the 14-7 win.

A women's round robin also took place in the South Bay, but unlike the men, a tournament final concluded the event. The Life West Gladiatrix won each of their three round robin matches, including a win over the Berkeley All Blues. Still, the All Blues got another shot at Life West by winning their other two games. Berkeley did well to correct the mistakes it made in its earlier meeting against the DII 15s National Champions, and overtook the Gladiatrix, 28-12, in the end.

Red River

Qualifier #2 - Fort Worth, TX

Lightning did not allow the men's Final at this past weekend's Red River men's qualifier to be competed, but it did not stop Little Rock from earning first-place points in the region's road towards qualification to Nationals.

The Red River Division II Champions in 15s went undefeated in pool play before handing the Dallas Red a 28-7 defeat in the Semifinals. In similar fashion, the Austin Huns, winners of the June 25 Little Rock Qualifier, bested each of their first four foes before a lengthy lightning delay ended the day's action. Without the ability to decide first-place on the pitch, Little Rock took top prize based on its narrow advantage in point differential over the Huns.

Both Austin and Little Rock have finished in the top two in each of the Red River qualifying events, meaning either would have to be left out of the Semifinals of the third and final qualifying tournament July 23 in Austin to be in jeopardy of missing a spot at Nationals.

Coming off of its National Championship title at the 2015 Club 7s National Championships, American Rugby Pro Training Center has been on a tear in the women's qualification process out of Red River. This past weekend, the Arkansas-based National Development Academy sidestepped Houston Athletic and Little Rock twice to the tune of 93-7 before it had its way with the Austin Valkyries in the Final, 33-7.

Southern

Invasion 7s - Lakewood Ranch, FL

Orlando Women continued unstoppable form in Florida when it went undefeated at Invasion 7s. Following tournament victories in Florida's first two stops, Orlando's 34-0 win over Phoenix in Lakewood Ranch officially qualified the squad for the July 23 South 7s Championship.

Miami Rugby, in equally dominant fashion, swept the three Florida qualifying events on the men's side of things. Appropriately, Miami breezed through the Cup Final over Naples, beating the Hammerheads, 26-0. Naples, though, did qualify for the South 7s Championship when it defeated Orlando in the Semifinals.

Unsurprisingly, both men's and women's Florida 7s Champions had one of their own take home Florida 7s Series MVP honors. Zoe Sanchez of Orlando Women was recognized for her play, while Miami's José Laphit was named the men's MVP.

Hotlanta 7s - Atlanta, GA

Atlanta Old White's unscathed afternoon ended in a 44-0 championship defeat of Legion of Doom. Old White, looking for a return to Nationals for a seventh appearance after missing out on the 2015 Championships, were paced by flyer Gerson Blaise's four tries and half back Zach Miller's 29 total points.

Legion of Doom, a select side including players from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, did not stand much of a chance against Atlanta, but it was not for a lack of physicality. The select squad showed well at the breakdown, particularly Brett Johnson.

Tennessee 7s - Knoxville, TN

After a disappointing third-place finish at the June 25 Vulcan 7s, New Orleans Royale reached the Final of Tennessee 7s, but watched its lead disappear against Nashville.

New Orleans did not break much of a sweat in the Semifinals, besting Knoxville, 40-5, whereas Nashville had a much tougher time putting away Oklahoma City, 21-19, on its side of the bracket. The level of difficulty made Nashville's shocking comeback in the Final that more impressive. After the Royale built a sizeable lead, Nashville stormed back to overtake NOLA's sevens side, 28-26.