Santa Monica’s National Summer Sevens campaign officially kicked off this weekend as OMBAC hosted the first of 4 qualifying tournaments for the National Championships to be held in Pittsburg on August 10-11.
Despite only 3 players on the roster returning from last year’s sevens squad, the spirit and commitment of this relatively young and inexperienced team remained the same.
The Dolphins found themselves in a pool with LARC and Tempe, breezing past L.A. in the first match 29-5, then triumphing over Tempe 21-12 in game 2 which ensured top spot of the pool and a ranking of 2nd overall leading into the knockout stages.
The Quarter Final against Oceanside was mostly a one-sided affair, as the pace and fitness of Santa Monica proved too much for a much larger Oceanside outfit. Final score – 29-5.
After 3 solid performances, confidence was high for the Dolphins going into the semi final against the tournament hosts OMBAC, who would prove to be a much tougher opponent than earlier challengers. This was demonstrated right from the kick off with OMBAC drawing first blood to take the lead 7-0 after a well worked, multi-phase movement.
Santa Monica bounced back and held strong with some great defense and patient attack and were eventually rewarded with a try of their own before the break. With the conversion waved away by the touch judges, the score remained 7-5.
The pressure from the young Santa Monica team mounted with some punishing defense, particularly on OMBAC’s key playmakers. The pressure became too much for OMBAC with an overview from the lineout in their own red zone, which was cleverly pounced on by Santa Monica stalwart Zac Winter taking the score now to 12-7.
OMBAC pressed hard with ball in hand but the resilient Santa Monica defense held firm right into the last play of the game, which saw OMBAC attempt a wide play around 40m from the SM try line. Now in the dying seconds, with Santa Monica leading and poised for a berth in the Final, the game would end in controversial fashion, as the last pass to OMBAC’s open winger appeared to be well forward with cries coming from the crowds on both sidelines and even the touch judge. But the cries were ignored and the touch judge over ruled by the referee and try was awarded. OMBAC win at the death 14-12.
In disbelief and demoralized after coming so close to making the Final, the Dolphins struggled to lift themselves up for the 3 v 4 playoff versus Old Aztecs, especially with 2 players not able to take the field due to injury. But with only 10 men they limped on the field and gave it their best effort, courageously going down to the fresher, more experienced Aztecs 7-24, securing 4th spot in the tournament and earning 15 points toward their National Qualifying tally.
OMBAC also went on the lose convincingly in the Final to a strong looking Belmont Shore side, who already look like the team to beat in SoCal this summer.
Overall it was a successful day for Santa Monica sevens, and encouraging signs for the following weeks especially with the 3 youngsters Daniel Thomas, Seve Woods and Taku Suzuki all holding their own amongst the big boys. Dave Martini was a standout as a seemed like every time he got the ball he scored. Captain Alan Gibbon led the team valiantly to the death. French recruit Mathieu Lesgourges displayed his class all day with ball in hand and big hits in defense. Brian Regal was a force particularly from restarts putting Santa Monica on the front foot constantly, especially with his relentless bruising defense. Zac Winter just seems to become better and more reliable with every game and veteran Matty Strangeway played well above his weight as always. Phil Osborne was a tyrant all day and was sorely missed in the final 2 matches after sustaining a deep head wound requiring stitches at the nearby emergency room. It was a welcome return for Ryan Guss also after a long lay off through injury, managing to get through the tourney unscathed and scoring a nice try in the final game much to the delight of his team mates and family supporting on their deck chairs from the sidelines. Familiar face Spenser May also returned after missing the 15s season due to a neck injury, and displayed some trademark scintillating skills and pace with ball in hand.
Preparations now begin for the next tourney to be held in Tempe, with Santa Monica sitting comfortably in the hunt for qualification and ready to go one better next weekend.
Coach Marc Stcherbina and Coach Greg Commins