There was one adjustment to the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championship (Aug. 10-11, Kansas City, Mo.) seeds this year. The Midwest has been downgraded to one representative, while the Pacific South was rewarded with a second berth to nationals. That shift came at the expense of Midwest runner-up Chicago North and to the benefit of the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy, SoCal’s number two team behind reigning national champion San Diego.
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Santa Barbara is a National Development Academy, like nationals-bound Scion Rugby Academy, which repeated as the Mid-Atlantic champion; and American Rugby Pro Training Center (ARPTC, LINK), which is taking both Red River spots to nationals. Kevin Battle is the head coach, and he’s assisted by Eagle and Olympian Kelly Griffin, who is also an active player. Most of the athletes begin training with the academy in February, but a handful join after their collegiate 15s seasons end and commit during the summer only.
“I love playing and working with our Academy athletes,” Griffin enthused. “My favorite part of the team is that everyone has the attitude of wanting to push each other and try to become the best they can be.”
Kim Law is a big driver in that regard. The captain is in her third year with the program, and she’s supported with on-field leadership from players like Tiana Kawaihoa-Marquez and Naomi Carrillo, who was just named to the Women’s Collegiate All-American 15s team competing at the Women’s All-Star Week in Greeley, Colo., next week. Capped 7s Eagle Lauren Thunen has also remained active with the Santa Barbara academy and is currently in Lima, Peru, representing Team USA at the Pan-Am Games. Thunen will be back in time and eligible for club 7s nationals.
The academy remained active on the SoCal 7s tournament circuit and added in friendly round robins against the Berkeley All Blues and San Francisco Golden Gate. But the team does not have to travel very far to test itself against nationals-quality opposition.
“The San Diego Surfers have been our biggest challenge the last three seasons,” Griffin pointed to the team’s most consistent and toughest competitor. “They really push us to improve every time we play them. We are grateful to have such strong competition in our region.”
San Diego won both SoCal qualifiers and thus takes the top seed to nationals, but the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy will be heading to the Heartland as well.
“This is the first time we have qualified for nationals and are very excited to compete with the best teams in the country,” Griffin enthused. “Our goal is to play our best rugby. When we know we execute, put in full effort and communicate on the field, we can walk away feeling successful no matter what the score says.”
USA Rugby has not publicly indicated how the seeds are being grouped into pools, but the full 16-team field will be known by end of day Saturday, July 27. The following weekend is the National Development Invitational Tournament in Little Rock, Ark., and Santa Barbara will be entering a team into the USA talent I.D. event.