The Lions men’s and women’s 7s sides travelled to Blaine, Minnesota, to compete at the USA Club 7s Nationals.
The teams spent Friday touring the facility before having a team dinner together where former South African 7s Legend Frankie Horne spoke to the group about winning before head coaches David Fee and Jeremy Nash presented their players with their jerseys on what was a a great night for the club.
Saturday saw the teams get down to the business of winning games and attempting to qualify for the knock-out rounds on day 2. Both teams got off to strong starts winning their first games. We will start with the women.
The women came out hot and showed no signs of nerves by beating Philadelphia 36-5 in a fantastic first game performance. Tries were scores by Dash (x2), Kish, Devon, Jess and Creek.
They then went on to play a very strong team in New York Rugby club who ended up the weekend in 3rd overall. It was a closely contested game for the most part with tries from Dash and Creek keeping the Lions in contention, however breakaway tries from the New York side saw them run out to an eventual 26-10 win and the Lions knowing they needed to win their last pool game to qualify for the quarters.
And they did just that, they came out firing against Austin Valkyries with a 24-5 win that was never in doubt and arguably one of their best performances of the weekend. Tries in that game came from captain Kish (x2) Devon and Gabby. And with that the women qualified for the quarter finals on their return to the competition having not made it last year.
Meanwhile the men were having a good day in the warmth and sun of Blaine.
The men kicked off the tournament with a white wash of Optimus from Atlanta, a scoreline which would late prove vital to seeding out of the pool on points difference. Tries from Eddie Bluemel, Matt Wagner and JP (x2) lead us to a 26-0 win.
Next up was the #2 seed from SoCal, Santa Monica. The men backed up the first result in what was a hugely physical game with tries from Jack, Eddie and Wagner rounding out a 15-10 win.
The last pool game of the day had the Lions play one of the tournament favorites in Life West from San Fransisco in what would prove to be a heated affair. The game saw the Lions take a 12-0, during which time there were two yellow cards, one for Life and one for Michael Ziegler in a contentious incident which saw him protecting his teammate after the scoring of a try, only to see yellow and make it 6 vs. 6 with a minute to the half. Life made the most of the short numbers and scored just before the half to make a game of it second half. Life came out a new team in the second half and despite the Lions best efforts they were not able to increase their lead. Life finally got possession back and in the dying seconds managed to punch in what would prove to be the winning try.
As it turned out the Lions would still go through first seed on points difference with three teams in the pool finishing with a 2-1 record.
It was time for the men’s and women’s teams to head back to the accommodation and focus on recovery and video review ahead of Sunday morning quarters against Belmont Shore and Life West respectively.
Coach Fee commented:
“We showed very strong moments. An opening tournament shutout win was a great way to start the day, and we looked real strong for the opening moments vs LIFE West in our last pool play game, and then again on day 2 to close out the day with a strong 26-5 win.”
The women were first to take to the field on day 2, cheered on by a growing contingent of Lions supporters who had made the trip including teammates, parents and club president Jeff Simon. This was truly special to have our own pocket of supporters in the stand for every game and something all the players are really grateful for.
The women went up against current 15s national champions Life West in what were difficult conditions with rain coming in over the Blaine Complex. Tries from Brittany “Chip” O’Dell and Kish kept it close but handling and defensive errors gave Life West possession for large parts of the game and they showed their quality in finishing victorious with a score of 12-22. The women will be proud in the knowledge that on a different day with a few less errors that this was a game they could have take and that they are not far off where they need to be to beat the top teams in the country.
The women got an unlucky break after that as a shock result saw the ARPTC academy also knocked out in the quarters and scheduled to play the women Lions. The women went 7-0 up through a try and conversion form Chip and looked in a great position moving forward. A try from ARPTC saw teammates Kish and Dash collide and saw Dash removed from the field after a length spell of treatment from Athletico Physio Ryan Jarema. This was a big loss for the women and a shock to all to see a player go off with a head injury. Thankfully Dash was okay. The women lost 7-26 in a game that ran away form them after that.
The women found themselves playing for 7s against NOVA. They were determined to go out on a high against what has historically been a strong women’s 7s side. The women had a reshuffle of the starting team and came out with an inspiring 33-10 victory to finish the day on a high and do the club extremely proud.
The Lions were one of only two clubs in the country to have both their men and women qualify for nationals and now we had both teams rank in the top 8 in the country to follow up both winning the Midwest championship in what has been a tremendous year for the club.
Jeremy has done a remarkable job in getting the women to where they are today and the future is very bright for this women’s program. Watch this space! Captain Sarah Kish said:
“I’m very excited about our finish. We had a few tough losses to good teams, but showed great resilience in coming back with a strong win to take 7th place. It was the first time on a National stage for several players, and I think we sent a message about the future of this program. We grew as a team and a program over the weekend, and expect to return next year to fight for the national championship.”
Men’s Quarter Final
On the men’s side, a quarter final against a big Belmont side awaited our men. Belmont lead the country in nationals appearances and victories but looked like a team that we should beat having watched them stutter on day one.
It was a case of a perfect storm for the Lions where things just didn’t go right all game. Decisions went against us and ultimately we never got into our pattern. The game went down to the final seconds with tries coming from Brady and Jordan but it was Belmont who edged it 14-17.
The men went on to lose 12-14 in the final seconds against Old Blue when Luke Hume tapped and went quickly off a penalty to score under the posts after the Lions having led throughout. Scores came from Jordan and Luke. This set-up a rematch against Life West to round out the day. Coach Fee had the following to saw:
“Two missed tackles was the difference in the Old Blue match.
“Hopefully our guys learn from this, and the hunger, that frustration builds us to be stronger next year. It was a great summer, great combination of guys, we just fell a little short.”
The boys did pull together and show their potential to finish in style though with a thumping victory over Life West, payback for the result the day before. Tries from Feakes, Brady, Casey and JP handed the Lions a 26-5 win to round out the tournament placed in 7th.
Fee went on to remark on some departing personnel:
“I feel for the guys, and for Eddie Bluemel who is off to retirement… I wish we could have sent him off on a higher note. His calmness and approach to the game will be missed.
“The biggest loss though will be in Manager Patrick O’Reilly, who will be dearly missed. He allowed the coaches to focus on coaching, and the players to focus on playing. Those shoes will be tough to fill.”
The players, coaches and management would like to thank everyone from the club for their support all summer. While narrow losses are hard to take, we will look back in a year which saw the Lions win 3 Midwest championships. Men’s 15s and 7s, along with women’s 7s, makes a statement as a club with some huge results at a national level that this is a club on the rise and one heading towards the very top. This is just the start of what is going to be a journey toward being the number one club in the country.
Thank you to all to all the sponsors and GoFundMe donations which made the travel and logistics possible, your ongoing support is truly appreciated and not taken for granted.
Lastly from me, a big thank you to our two fantastic head coaches in David Fee and Jeremy Nash, we are so fortunate to have two coaches of your calibre leading our 7s programs. To Patrick and Tator for managing the teams all summer, a tireless job which deserves huge credit, we thank you. To our captains, Matt Wagner and Sarah Kish, for leading from the front all summer and sending such high standards for the players on and off the field. To Tom Argy for supporting our men and women all summer with video analysis and lastly, Ryan Jarema, who was run off his feet all summer treating up to 4 teams at a time on any given weekend.
We are so fortunate to have such a great support staff as a club and I am excited to keep moving forward with what is now a very tight knit family.
~ Coach Dave Clancy