Teams Hunt For A Bid to Nationals at Western Open

This weekend, for the first time in its history, USA Rugby will be offering automatic qualifiers for its Club 7s National Championship. The Western Open will pit eight of the top programs in the western states against one another.

This weekend, for the first time in its history, USA Rugby will be offering automatic qualifiers for its Club 7s National Championship. The Western Open will pit eight of the top programs in the western states against one another, replicating a condensed version of the National Championship structure. The winner will secure their birth in nationals, weeks ahead of schedule, and with changes to the seeding allotments this season the automatic qualification will have a massive impact on those in and out of the tournaments this weekend.

Treasure Island, the home of San Francisco Golden Gate and the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships from 2008-2012, will be the stage on which the Western Open will take place this weekend. The location, on the back drop of AT&T Park is helping the Western Open set the stage for the World Cup. According to Tournament Director, and Olympic Club president, Andrew King, the Western Open is gathering quite the buzz in the local community, "There is a lot of interest from local community, a lot of people coming from out of town... We are looking forward to building it out to a 16 or even 24 team tournament, down the road." Part of the reason the excitement is building comes from the storylines that are emerging from the tournament.   

One of the major storylines to follow through the tournament will be Pacific North's attempts to gain an extra seeding at nationals. The Pacific North, as it currently stands, will only have one representative at Nationals, this weekend that could change.  If a team from the Pacific North wins the Western Open then that will mean that regardless of who wins the region there will be two teams represented. The Pacific North is a notoriously tough 7s region, with the likes of Washington Athletic (who finished 3rd nationally last year) competing in it, a chance to qualify automatically for a team like the Olympic Club, who are always in contention it is a huge motivator for them. King, who is also Olympic Club's President noting, "(It's) Absolutely incredibly important, that us or some other team from the pacific north walks out on top this weekend. If one of the teams from the pacific north can win it will make it easier for us to qualify."

While the importance is hard to escape for the teams, like Olympic Club, which come from region with only one guaranteed seed, it hasn't been lost on teams like Belmont Shore who have more room to breathe. Peter Sio, of the head coach of Belmont Shore's 7s program, explained that not only does it help them get on the national stage, but it also helps them plan logistically. "It's huge, it's important. Just two qualifiers, nothing is guaranteed. I was excited for it, it's a good change from USA Rugby. It doesn't just help us out, it helps out other teams in other regions too. It's hugely important for us. Gives us more time to prepare for us financially for nationals."   

Eight teams will be vying for the championship and the 7s birth, but with powers, the likes, of Belmont Shore, Olympic Club, Life West, Santa Monica and a host of other local talent participating, just getting out of the pool stages is far from guaranteed. Teams are aware of the fact that while the reward is massive, it's not going to be easy. King acknowledged the strength of the competition they'd face this weekend, "Belmont Shore has a sustained track record of success, as does Santa Monica...San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG) can't ever be taken lightly...There is a good number of teams that I wouldn't be surprised if they walked out of there at the end of the weekend as the champions." Sio, echoed King's sentiments, "I know for sure Olympic Club should be good, I played with a few boys who are now running the team. They should have a pretty good young team and with all the college squads out there you'll never know who they'll have. All the teams are a threat. We are just going in there to execute what we need to do to get the job done."

Executing game plans, and sticking within a team's systems seems to be the recipe to success for the weekend, as both King and Sio know that if they can't keep within their parameters they will struggle. "This is only our second tournament, we're still young in the season." Sio mentioned, "We just need to do the little things right, speaking towards, passing and catching, if we do those things right the rest will fall into place. We just want to build upon our performance last weekend." King admitting that if Olympic Club wants to qualify for nationals it will be about, "ultimately maintaining consistency... we need to make sure the guys are comfortable running in our systems."

The Western Open will run Saturday through Sunday and with no shortage of drama set to unfurl, it is an event well worth keeping on your radar. For those interested in attending the event tickets will be available at the gates. $10 for single day entry and $15 for the weekend.

Below is a list of all the teams competing: 

Belmont Shore Rugby
Diablo Olde Gaels
Life West Gladiators 
Olympic Club Rugby
San Francisco Golden Gate
San Jose Seahawks
Santa Monica Dolphins 
Westside Ronins