The premier event of the weekend, the NAHS 7s, lived up to its billing. There were upsets, match-winning tries, highlights galore, and a glimpse into the next generation of talent set to light up the American rugby landscape.
On the girls side it was Atlantis who won the cup, and for the boys it was EIRA. Both teams were on fire all weekend, and here's how they took home 1st place:
The girls from Atlantis were clinical all tournament long. From start to finish they were the class of the competition, and their teamwork is what got them there.
In pool play, they found themselves in just one competitive ball game. 31-12, 53-5, 20-10, and 59-0 wins over Rhinos Rugby, Rock Rugby, Utah Rugby, and Rebel Rugby marked a dominant display on Day 1.
With a bye to the semifinals, Atlantis could sit and watch as Rebel Rugby defeated Rock in their quarterfinal to set up another showdown between the two sides.
Round two was hardly any closer than the day before. Atlantis blasted the Rebels again, 43-0, to advance to the NAHS championship.
Their opponents, Utah Rugby Academy, fought through a tough semifinal against against Rhino Rugby to book their own place.
In their matchup with the Rhinos, Utah spent most of the first half defending their own tryline. However, they managed to concede zero points, and just before half made a 95 meter break out to score and go into half with a 7-0 lead. They tacked on another two tries in the second half to secure a 17-5 win and a spot in the final.
The championship was highly competitive. Utah got on the board first after two minutes; a nice sequence of hands got the ball wide to the winger, who made good ground on the edge. Before she could score, the Atlantis wing dragged her down, but not before she could release the offload to her center in support.
The center, channelling her inner Odell Beckham Jr, made a beautiful one-handed snag to corral the ball and stride in for the opening try. The kick was good, and it was 7-0 Utah.
The game reached a standstill for the next four minutes, until Atlantis found a half-break through their center. She dished a beautiful one-handed offload to the oncoming winger, who took the ball at full speed and motored past everyone for a try under the posts. After the conversion, Atlantis tied it at 7-7 with 30 seconds remaining in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Utah gathered possession but were quickly turned over by Atlantis. They managed to work the ball all the way down to 10 meters from the line, but a runner got isolated and Utah got over the ball and won a penalty with time up on the clock.
What happened next was potentially the turning point in the match.
Utah elected to back themselves from 90 meters out and, instead of kicking the ball out to end the half, tried to tap and go instead. They got the ball wide and were quickly swallowed up by Atlantis' defense, leading to a penalty and a change of possession.
Atlantis linked up nicely on a few passes to work the ball all the way to the 5-meter line. They got into the whitewash finally, after a beautiful basketball-style offload sprung a try. The offloader took in two defenders, but instead of performing a customary rugby pass, she lifted her arms up over the defender's head and dumped the ball down to her support runner. It was very nice piece of skill.
The try was converted and at halftime it was Atlantis 14-7 up.
Early in the second half, Utah tallied another try, going sideline to sideline and ultimately scoring in the corner. The difficult conversion was missed and it was 14-12 Atlantis with five minutes remaining.
With just two minutes to go on the clock, Atlantis scored their third try. A series of nice passes and offloads eventually opened a lane for one of their shifty players to make a couple of cuts and score against the base of the post. However, the easy conversion went wide left and Utah was given a lifeline.
But Atlantis buckled down on defense for the remainder of the game and, unlike in many of the other games, managed to prevent the attacking team from scoring a buzzer beater. 19-12 final, and another title for the Atlantis girls.
The weekend's most dominant team was EIRA, and there is little to dispute that claim.
From game one to game five, the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy rinsed everyone. They played the game the right way, and did so with a plethora of talent.
In sevens, it can be very tempting to try and attack each and every time you get the ball, as you are afforded a lot of time and space with ball-in-hand. However, this can often be an illusion; what may seem like an opportunity to gain nice meters can in fact actually just disrupt the entire rhythm and flow of your offense.
The boys from EIRA succumbed to no such temptation. They consistently shifted the ball into the right areas, and unselfishly provided their teammates with better opportunities to make things happen. What made their unselfish play really click though was the pace and accuracy behind their passes. Crisp, on-target passes allowed the receivers to catch the ball with pace and space, putting tons of pressure on the defense.
It seemed as though defenses were never able to keep structure against EIRA, and as such were constantly in bad positions to make tackles. The EIRA players were generally able to run at soft shoulders, and with the explosive talent throughout the roster, these became easy tries.
On a team so loaded with great players, and which very much plays "we ball" over "me ball", it's almost unfair to pick anyone that stood out. But Miles McCormick, Dominic Tianga, Ethan van Tonder, and Darius Law were sensational all weekend.
They swept the competition to the tune of 177 points for and just 33 against, beating the Arizona Bobacats, Utah Rugby Academy twice, USA Rugby South Panthers, and Rock Rugby along the way.
In a class tournament, these guys stood out above the rest. Not even their opponents in the final, the hard-hitting Rock Rugby boys, could slow them down. Expect to see many of these faces tearing it up on the collegiate scene in the coming years.