As expected, the unseasonably poor weather greatly impacted the Los Angeles Invitational (LAI) rugby 7s tournament last Friday-Sunday, Feb. 24-26, as the event transitioned to different locations with turf fields. It was a massive endeavor, and there were shortfalls that resulted in canceled games, poorly communicated changes, and discontented participants. Some girls and women’s competitions were completed – notably, the high school division – while others were disregarded.
The Girls’ High School Open moved from CSU Long Beach to the turf fields at Mira Costa High School (a relocation that was never publicly relayed or reflected on the schedule). That competition shortened into a one-day affair, and thus the format altered to a Round of 16 opener, followed by Cup, Bowl, Plate, etc., stages. It was very difficult to plot teams’ routes, as the online schedule never populated.
Nonetheless, teams were ready to roll and the first couple of rounds evolved in light to no rain. The two USA Pathways National Development Programs – Rhinos Rugby Academy and Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (EIRA) – were ranked first and second, respectively, heading into the tournament, and they lived up to expectations.
En route to the final, they faced excellent competition from the SacPAL Amazons, Kahuku, Fallbrook, Pasifika, United and Pleasanton. But the whole 16-team field really delivered, giving scouts from Dartmouth, Princeton, Army West Point, Davenport, among others, plenty of quality rugby to observe.
In the end, Rhinos had the gas for a 21-12 final win against EIRA. With no games scheduled for Saturday, the high schoolers could then devote their weekends to the LA 7s.
The Women’s Open and Women’s College divisions were originally scheduled as one-day competitions at the Dignity Health Sports Complex and evolved as such. With five teams, the colleges stuck with their round robin / standings champion format; however, lightning canceled the final two rounds of games. Canada’s Guelph was looking strong, with winning sides in both the Open and College divisions, and Colorado won its two games: 10-5 vs. Univ. Utah and 24-0 vs. Boise State. Iowa also beat Utah 17-12. The Women’s Open shifted to a Round of 8 knockout that then flowed into 1st- and 5th-place brackets. That format would have provided each team with three games apiece, but again, lightning intervened.
Originally, the 12-team Women’s Elite was also at Dignity Health, which has a mix of grass and synthetic fields, but had to move to Toyota Sports Complex in Torrance. (Again, this relocation was not publicly announced, and if it weren’t for the responsive Joanne Liu relaying the address, then this report would be way more salty.) TRB was on the ground for the Women’s Elite knockouts and regrettably could not see any of the club or college games.
After Friday’s pool games, the top-eight teams routed to the Saturday Cup quarterfinals. Scion beat Roots 20-0 and then readied for Rhinos Black, which had defeated Old Blue 14-5. On the other side of the bracket, the California Grizzlies beat Mexico 15-5, and Rhinos Green eliminated the Hartford Harpooners 14-5.
In the semifinals, Rhinos Green beat the Grizzlies by 30+ points, and did so with a lot of young talent in players like Leila Opeti and Sam Brackett, who both have USA Pathways experience.
The Rhinos Black vs. Scion semifinal was absolutely epic, requiring overtime to declare a winner. Rhinos included capped USA 7s players like Spiff Sedrick, Sarah Levy, Rachel Strasdas and Summer Harris-Jones, as well as current Chula Vista resident Natalie Bjorklund. Scion also rostered USA 7s residents Jess Lu and Autumn Czaplicki, but both of them have represented the Sirens in the club 7s season and/or nationals. In fact, the majority of the Scion squad in Los Angeles is part of the program, including Lauren Rhode, who debuted as Scion coach. According to founder Liu, it’s the first of many appearances for Rhode.
It was a fast, tense battle, but Rhinos Black eventually capitalized on the mounting pressure and subsequent penalties in Scion’s 22, and Bjorklund darted through a half-gap and attempted tackle for the game winner.
But that’s where the elation ended. The Rhinos Green vs. Rhinos Black final was originally scheduled for a Saturday evening kickoff inside the LA 7s stadium. But as the day continued, hail and lightening wiped out the HSBC Sevens Series schedule. The LAI 7s games were understandably bumped, but there was no communication regarding the fate of those trophy matches. Would they be rescheduled for Sunday? Were they canceled outright? Could they be played on the exterior fields?
It wasn’t until the LAI Men’s Elite final took place on Sunday inside the stadium that Rhinos Rugby understood that its game was possible, just not high enough on the tournament organizers’ priorities.
Players lost that opportunity to play inside of the stadium – which is such a rush, especially in front of a hometown crowd – after battling two days of horrid weather, same as the men. Rhinos also lost the chance to showcase its brand, and the organization entered six teams overall into the LAI. Women’s rugby had a representative moment taken from it, and the fans were deprived as well. These types of slights aren’t one-offs, and those familiar with the history of the USA 7s in Las Vegas know this to be true. Pump your resources into events and organizations that value girls and women’s rugby. You know who they are.
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