The National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) will hold its National 7s Championship at the end of April, and conferences have been busy naming their representatives. Colgate University served as host for the Upstate New York 7s Championship, an automatic qualifier (AQ) for nationals, and the University of Rochester took the title with a 12-7 final win over the host.
“The girls were definitely hoping to win. Me, personally, I wanted them to get out there and have fun, but the girls really want to make it this year,” said fourth-year Rochester coach Meredith Pyke, an alumna. “Two years ago we took an at-large bid and finished 11th. Last year we qualified and finished fifth. Maybe we’ll finish third this year?”
Rochester has good experience and momentum this year. During the 15s season in the fall, the team progressed through a tough DII/NSCRO hybrid competition, which was managed by commissioner Clarence Picard and played an important role in readying the team for the rigors of post-season. Rochester advanced to the national quarterfinals before falling to Salve Regina.
Leading the way this spring season is a strong group of seniors, in particular captains Victoria Breza and Alexa Annotti, president Jen Foster and fifth-year Emily Grey, who are crucial to team dynamics. Coming up behind them are incoming president Nina Stash and Payton Nugent, both juniors, who are primed to be great leaders. They set the example during a lengthy indoor pre-season, which involved lots of drilling and no outdoor sessions until the week prior to the AQ.
“Our main focus, and the reason why we’re so successful, is we really emphasize the basics,” Pyke said. “Until we do passing lines with no drops, we’re not moving forward with switches and loops. Until we get down switches and loops, we don’t move onto plays. We play a lot of touch rugby, too, so everyone knows how to play next to everyone.”
Rochester sent two teams to the AQ: An A-side where 10 of 12 were experienced 7s players; and a B side for inexperienced players. The goal is to keep everyone engaged, throughout the whole year, and also ready depth should last-minute minute availability for nationals changes. The A side advanced to the semifinals, where it faced St. Bonaventure in a 41-7 win.
“They hit their stride in that game,” Pyke said of the semifinal. “We’d been trying different things with the lineup in the first two games, but for the semifinal, we figured out our good lineup and just kinda went for it. It was an amazing game to watch. And then everything came together against Colgate.”
The final was a tight affair but Rochester held on for the 12-7 victory and berth to the national 7s championship.
“The expectation was to qualify, but we were hopeful and really excited it happened,” Pyke said.
Not a bad showing for a first run-out of the season, and the tournament provided some valuable insight into the younger players.
“We definitely have some young talent that I’m excited about,” Pyke said. “There were two players who played up with the seniors – Mae Jobin-Davis and Micaela Holmes. Both came so far in those two [final] games. On the B side, Sonia Brickey and Molly Griston impressed me.”
The AQ kicked off five consecutive weekends of 7s. Last weekend, Rochester sent a mixed side to St. Bonaventure 7s, also an AQ, to continue building depth. The host beat Colgate 22-20 in a thrilling final. And then it’s Battle of the Border this weekend, the team’s own tournament, Ruck Rochester, on the 20th, and then nationals at end of April in Pittsburgh. Rochester will likely see Colgate and St. Bonaventure in the subsequent weeks, and the trio will push each other’s development in the run-up.
“They’re not really rivals,” Pyke said. “Clarence and David Chapman, Colgate’s coach, and I have all coached the Upstate New York 7s [all-star] team that travels to Florida for the last two years.
“Usually you show up to a tournament and you don’t talk to anyone but your own team, but because of this trip – and we get players from a lot of schools – the players know each other, they chat in the stands and narrate the games. So they’re not rivals, we enjoy playing them. We know that Colgate is defensively organized and will try to break us down with the defense. Bonaventure has two girls who are really strong runners and we have to be careful and have the offense organized. We expect these things from each other and get excited about it.”
With the 7s national championship only three weeks away, the brackets should be close to finished by the end of this weekend, giving teams two weeks to plan their travel to Pittsburgh. Visit NSCRO’s home page for more info.