The National Athletic Village put together a rugby sevens team, the Olympic version, of players from Southern Pines and across the state and qualified to play in the national championship tournament in Kansas City August 10 and 11.
The team is currently ranked No. 3 in the country by FloRugby and went 12-2-1 in Mid-Atlantic tournament play, taking home championships in Delaware and Northern Virginia and placing second in Baltimore to start the series.
The head coach is Justin-Kyle Anderson out of Charlotte, with South African roots, and who led team USA to victory over Canada in a clash of U19 representative teams. Robert Bortins is Director of Rugby and filled in as coach for the teams only undefeated tournament, going 5-0 in Delaware.
The team went 3-1-1 in their first tournament and tied in pool place and then lost in the Championship to Beltway Elite, who finished No. 10 in the country last year. The team was then in a must win mode needing to finish ahead of Beltway in the next two tournaments as the Mid-Atlantic only received one bid to nationals.
In the second tournament, the team started hot and never slowed down. The team got a bit of a lucky break when Schuylkill River knocked Beltway out of the semi-finals, and then NAV sevens ran over Schuylkill in the Championship 36-12. To take a slim points lead over Beltway but due to tie breaker rules, the NAV was still going to need to finish ahead of Beltway in the final tournament of the season.
The team confidently went into the NOVA tournament with plenty of momentum. The first match of the day, the team easily won. But during the second match, the team played sluggish and went down 12-0 at the half to the home team after Shawn Riley went down with a sprained ankle.
During the second half, the NAV scored twice. Emerson Bessell converted both kicks to take home a 14-12 victory and a final pool match versus Schuylkill River for first place going into the knock out rounds. Beltway was taking care of business in their pool and appeared to be on a collision course with NAV in the championship.
The NAV team came out flat against Schuylkill and went down early and was never able to find their rhythm losing 19-12 and setting up a semi-final match with Beltway, who was steam rolling their competition. Beltway scored first to go up 5-0, but NAV answered going up 7-5 right before halftime. But the ref said one more play, and Shawn Riley took it in for the try in the corner with a 14-5 halftime lead.
Neither team was able to score with both driving deep into the others territory, but stout defense kept both sides out. Finally, NAV had the ball and ran the last minute off the clock with cool handling and patience. NAV had earned a trip to Nationals and then easily defeated NOVA in the championship.
Written by Sandhills Sentinel contributor Robert Bortins.