LAFAYETTE, Colo. – The 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships once again saw the standard of domestic sevens soar to new heights. One team in particular that witnessed great improvement from its 2015 Championship performance was the Chicago Lions.
The Lions were coming off a year in 15s in which they won the regular season title out of the Midwest – so the foundation for a successful sevens season was in place. But what really helped push Chicago to a Cup Semifinal run at Club 7s Nationals a year after finishing 11th at the 2015 Championships was a trio of D1A recruits who preformed admirably for the Lions.
Nick Feakes (Lindenwood), Tyler Graham (Indiana), and Robert Stortz (Kutztown) were each playing collegiate rugby less than three months ago, and none looked out of place playing against the best club talent in the country.
Graham, who manned the back of Indiana’s scrum as the Hoosiers’ No. 8, was typically brought on as a Chicago replacement and used his strength to get over the line for a try in a Semifinal loss to the Kansas City Blues. Feakes and Stortz, on the other hand, were not only standouts for the Lions, but two of the tournament’s best performers.
Feakes spent his summer in the Windy City between seasons with the Lindenwood Lions. A native of Australia, Feakes has a load of rugby experience – and it shows. Not only was the rangy fly half responsible for Chicago’s conversion attempts and restarts, but Feakes also paced the Lions with his seven trips to the try zone.
While Feakes was a bit of a revelation during the two-day tournament at Dick’s Sporting Good Park in Commerce City, Colo., Stortz has been a known commodity on both the college and club sevens scene for a few years now. A multi-time All-American at Kutztown and 2015 Rugby East Back of the Year, Stortz helped the Schuykill River Exiles to their first Cup Quarterfinals since 2012 at Club 7s last year.
This past weekend, the over-achieving center was at his very best. Although Stortz only scored two tries, he seemingly set up nearly every other score by the Lions, including a few jaw-dropping offloads amongst heavy traffic.
Playing without Stortz, Schuylkill River wasn’t able to match its results from last year, but the team may not have reached the Shield Final it lost to Olympic Club if it weren’t for the helping hand of a pair of Stortz’ college teammates. Samuel Devine and Collegiate All-American Jordan Ghyzel wore the black and white kit of the Exiles this past weekend and did so with excellent skill.
New Orleans Rugby and Louisiana State’s Cameron Troxler would have faced Schuykill River in the Shield Final had they got past Olympic Club. Troxler did well in continuing the tradition of LSU Tigers linking up with nearby New Orleans, and was at his best when the team needed him most. In a pool play encounter against eventual Cup Finalists Kansas City Blues, the Red River Conference’s first choice at fly half scored New Orleans’ only two tries in a 28-10 loss to the Blues.
Matches from the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships can be watched at The Rugby Channel.