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This weekends Best of the West Rugby 7s Invitational Cup at Joint Base Lewis-McChord featured elite teams, some of which have been together for years and one together for less than a week.
The U.S. Military Selects club featured top rugby talent representing four military branches, Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, and players from all over the country. Despite the short practice schedule, the U.S. Military Selects were a surprise factor with their third place finish, defeating the Portland Sturgeons 33-14 in the Plate Final Sunday at Cowan Stadium on Lewis Main.
(Last) Monday I saw we had some work to do, U.S. Military Selects coach Kevin Swiryn said. Every day they came in wanting to get better. Theyve impressed not only me, but theyve impressed the people on base, the fans, the other teams and probably even themselves.
Swiryn, a former USA sevens team captain, volunteered to coach the military team in the 16-team invitational. Military players arrived the weekend before the tournament and went through two-a-day practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The team scrimmaged Thursday and rested Friday before pool play Saturday.
Kenneth Brenneman of the Army National Guard, flew in from Wyoming where he studies and plays rugby at the University of Wyoming. Brenneman didnt know any of his teammates when he arrived.
This was a condensed timeline where we had to know that trust in each other, Brenneman said. This is the ultimate team game.
But the U.S. Military Selects quickly formed into a cohesive unit and went 4-0 in pool play in the first day of the tournament. The following day they faced Pacific Coast from Northern California in the Cup semifinal, one win away from the championship. Andrew Locke, a rugby standout at West Point and a Ranger with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, scored a try early for a 5-0 lead, but Pacific Coast scored 21 unanswered points to defeat the U.S. Military Selects 21-5.
Locke was one of two players on the U.S. Military Selects team who was unable to practice during the week leading up to the tournament. Locke along with Soldier Ben Paul, jumped in without practice and made an impact.
Paul scored back-to-back tries to help lead the U.S. Military Selects to their Plate Final win. Jay Harmon, a Soldier with 1st Special Forces Group and Marine Elliott Joses also contributed tries in the win.
I think people assumed military teams were going to be disciplined and fit, and those cliches, but to be as technically sound as we were and play together offensively and defensively, I think we surprised a lot of teams, Locke said. We can definitely compete with a lot of teams here.
The U.S. Military Selects were glad to have the opportunity to train with and be coached by Swiryn, someone who has a lot of experience with rugby sevens. But for Swiryn, it was an honor to be able to work with the service members.
Its been humbling to see the type of effort and desire and will that they put into rugby, he said. Thinking back to me playing, I think I could have been a much better player if I had some of what they have.
Serevi Selects won the Best of the West Rugby 7s Invitational Cup with a 35-12 win over Pacific Coast. Utah High School All Stars won the U-19 final. The tournament featured more than 40 matches with seven-minute halves, with 10 minute halves in the final.
The hard-contact sport kept the athletic trainer tent running at full force. Ruggers sat in ice baths, laid out on massage tables and ice bags were taped to knees, ankles and shoulders. Some players were carted off the field, and others were able to play through their injuries, like Locke with his black eye.
Every time I turn around theres someone limping over here, Apple Physical Therapy Certified Athletic Trainer Caitlin Gallup said.
Tournament organizer and JBLM Dragons rugby coach, Nick Punimata, has already reserved a weekend next June for the 2nd Annual Best of the West Rugby 7s Invitational Cup.
Best of the West 7s Rugby Invitational Cup Finals:
Cup Champion: Serevi Selects
Plate Champion: U.S. Military Selects
Bowl Champion: Pacific Rovers
Shield Champion: Old Puget Sound Beach
U19 Champion: Utah
Serevi Youth Rugby Camp on JBLM
Serevi Rugby is hosting a two-day youth rugby camp on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Aug. 2-3 at the Teen Zone field. The camp is $50 and is open to ages 5 to 18.
Serevi certified coaching staff, many whom are current or former national team members, will help children learn and develop running, passing, catching and kicking abilities with skill-based games and activities. Register online at serevirugby.com.