LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Friday, March 3 marks the kickoff of the 2017 USA Sevens international rugby tournament in Las Vegas. The Olympic athletes don’t step onto the pitch at Sam Boyd Stadium until then, but 11 D1A Rugby teams will begin its fun in Sin City today at the Las Vegas Invitational.
Nine of the 11 D1A teams competing in Vegas are doing so in sevens at the CRC qualifying tournament. The field includes Buffalo, Clemson, Colorado, Lindenwood, Michigan State, Santa Clara, St. Bonaventure, Utah State and Wheeling Jesuit. In 15s, Canterbury D1A Rugby Top 20 teams Air Force and Arizona will contest what should be a highly competitive nonconference match Saturday, March 4.
D1A teams won’t have to wait till the qualifying round to collide in the CRC qualifier, especially in Pool C where Colorado, Lindenwood and St. Bonaventure are joined by local college UNLV. The Lions have to be pegged as the favorite to win this pool. Lindenwood’s sevens accolades include a 2015 USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, and the Mid-South squad more recently won the Red Bull Uni 7s in August.
Don’t sleep on St. Bonaventure, however. The Bonnies won a few sevens tournaments last spring in coach Tui Osborne’s first season with the team, and qualified for the 2016 USA Rugby College 7s National Championships.
Buffalo, Santa Clara, Utah State and Wheeling Jesuit are the only D1A sides in their respective pools, while both Clemson and Michigan State have been placed in Pool E along with D1AA powerhouse James Madison and Montana State.
Two teams with their sights set on spots in the 2017 D1A Rugby Playoffs are sticking with 15s this weekend. A year after clobbering Colorado at the Las Vegas Invitational, Arizona returns to Sin City to take on Air Force.
As they did a season ago, the Zoomies are using its spring season to test its players against the country’s very best. The month of February included fixtures against #1 Saint Mary’s, #6 Lindenwood and #4 BYU. Each of those challenges came in a losing effort, so Air Force will be eagerly seeking a winner performance against the Wildcats.
A couple of D1A standouts are heading to Las Vegas to get a run, but not with their college clubs. Houston’s Brett Funderburk and Indiana’s Jake Hidalgo will be suiting up for senior club teams competing in the Americas Cup Elite bracket. Funderburk has been called on by longtime sevens program Atlantis, while Hidalgo will be putting in shifts for Midwest touring side 1823.