Our Nationals Experience – A message from Coach Marc Stcherbina
The National Rugby 7s Championships in Seattle 2014 marked the end of an incredible 3 month journey for the Santa Monica 7s program.
Since May of this year players have been turning up twice a week and giving up their weekends to claim a place on the 12 man roster to represent Santa Monica at each of the 4 qualifying tournaments, and eventually the National Championships.
With Southern California having its representation at Nationals reduced from 3 down to only 2 teams for 2014, we set short term goals of a top 2 finish in each tournament in order to achieve our long term goal of qualifying for Nationals.
This is exactly what we did, including an unprecedented victory at our home tournament, to give us our first start in the USA rugby 7s National Championships since the Tommy Smith coached team of the 80’s. Yes that’s right, despite the claims of our fundraising campaign, it was brought to my attention very recently, that this year was NOT in fact the first time we have been to Nationals, but it certainly was the first time in what can be considered the modern game of 7s rugby in America.
After a conversation with former SMRC coach Stu Krohn, it also became known to me that Santa Monica was represented in spectacular fashion by a group of players in the 70’s whom virtually demolished any opposition put in front of them on the 7s rugby pitch from all over America.
It is my vision, in this modern era, to once again emulate the kind of rugby 7s dominance displayed by those Dolphin trailblazers who laid the foundation for the proud and thriving club that SMRC is today. I can confidently say that the 2014 season was a step in the right direction to achieving this vision. And with Rugby 7s featuring in the 2016 Olympic games, I think now is the perfect time to put Santa Monica firmly on the US rugby 7s map, which will hopefully attract other benefits to aid in the operation and further expansion of the club.
But it won’t happen overnight, our results in Seattle demonstrated this. It was apparent that the top 8 teams in the tournament were a level above us, with the top 4 of those on an even higher level, due to the fact that many of these players are involved in the Eagles full time set up or other academies where rugby 7s is practiced 5 days a week.
Pool match 1 vs NYAC
In our first two pool games against NYAC and Denver respectively, we seemed to be a little nervous and overawed by the occasion, and somewhat overpowered. This is understandable, with an average age of only 24 and it also being the first time for most of the team competing in this event.
NYAC’s strong defense and effectiveness at the breakdown was a shock to the system for us, and something we weren’t used to dealing with regularly in our SoCal qualifying tournaments. We lost 27 – 5.
Pool match 2 vs Denver Barbarians
Last year’s finalists Denver were a similar opposition to NYAC in our 2nd pool game, and again we struggled to find the confidence to play our game pattern, losing in a tighter affair 19 – 5.
Pool match 3 vs Austin Blacks
For our 3rd pool match against Austin, you could see the team was more relaxed, probably because the pressure of advancing through to the Cup Quarter Finals had been lifted. As a result, the team played with more confidence and closer to the structure we had developed all summer. It was refreshing to score tries more freely, winning comfortably 26 – 12.
Bowl 1/4 Final vs Schylkill River
We took the momentum from our previous pool match against Austin into the Bowl Quarters and final match of the day against Schuylkill River.
We played some enterprising rugby, however we underestimated our opposition and struggled to finish the try scoring opportunities we created. With some composure and a stroke of luck, we snatched victory at the death 26 – 21.
Bowl Semi Final vs 1823
With a 9am kickoff in the Bowl semi final versus 1823 on Day 2, this again is where inexperience was evident. It’s difficult to mentally rise to the occasion so early in the day, bodies already battered and bruised, against an opposition you’ve never played before.
We knew however that they would be a tough opposition, being a Tiger Rugby Academy affiliate team boasting some former Eagles players.
Again, uncharacteristic mistakes cost us dearly, eventually going down 26-12, and while we fought hard until the final whistle, it was a case of too little too late, especially when playing catch up in a game of sevens at this level.
Bowl Consolation Playoff vs Maryland Exiles
With one game left to play at Nationals against the Maryland Exiles, the boys used their down time to rally together, reflect on previous performances, and set a goal of finishing the season on a win.
In a much more spirited display than earlier that morning, the Dolphins prevailed, recording a 26 – 17 scoreline for an overall win – loss record of 3 – 3 for the tournament, and ranking of 11th in the Nation.
With regards to improving our National ranking next year, this tournament was an extremely important learning experience for the players and management, made possible by the devotion and support of all our contributors to the Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Attempting to raise $13,000 was a massive task, and the fact that club members, family and friends stepped up to pull together and exceed our goal in a such a short amount of time is a testament to the vast network of support attached to this great club.
A special mention and huge thank you must also go out to the family and friends who made the trip to Seattle. Your presence on the sidelines and sound of your cheers provided the added boost we needed so far from home.
– Coach Marc Stcherbina