PAC Rugby 7s - Players and Picks
PAC Rugby 7s - Players and Picks
The PAC Rugby Conference 7s is set for Saturday in Tucson, and while four-time defending champs Cal have to be favored, there are other teams to watch out for.
And this news just in - PAC-12 Network has opted to greatly expand their coverage from last year's event, carrying this tournament live Sunday on the PAC-12 Network nationally, as well as their other networks PAC-12 Mountain, PAC-12 Arizona, PAC-12 LA, and PAC-12 Bay Area.
Cal - Led by All American Anthony Salaber, the Bears have some exciting freshmen such as Goff Rugby Report HS Player of the Year Keanu Andrade, last season's Jesuit HS captain Christian Dyer, and Granite Bay star Sam Cusano. Nick Mirhashem is just a sophomore but has already cemented his place as a go-to man for Cal. The Webb brothers, Russell and Elliot, are cut from the same cloth - skilled, smart, and can kick well. Watch out for 6-5 Connor Sweet, who, along with Salaber, can dominate in the air. And there's always Patrick Barrientes, who is a brilliant finisher and has been a big part of Cal's 7s efforts for four years.
Arizona State - Alex Sandstrom is a two-time collegiate All American in 7s, and a long-striding attacking threat. Bailey Stringer is a USA 7s prospect and was in the HS All American program. Alex Walsh was a HS All American in 7s and 15s, while Nate Short, was another HSAA and makes them all go at scrumhalf. Matt Brennan brings HSAA 7s experience to the Sun Devils, while DeVaughn Foster was also a collegiate All American in 7s.
Colorado - Kellen McDonald and Kyle Gasser lead a young and aggressive Colorado team that includes the tireless Zach Niro out of Chicago and the multi-skilled Jared Reich out of California.
Oregon - This is a developing team that hasn't played a lot of 7s, but could bring a few surprises. John Hickman is an exciting prospect out of St. Augustine in Southern California. He's got pace and reads the game well. Paul Gerard was the team's MVP last year, while Erik Westerman looks to build on an excellent rookie year.
Cal is the favorite here, in part because the Bears are so deep. They can rest Russell Webb, and put Elliot Webb in there instead and do just fine. They have Patrick Barrientes who is elusive, fast, and scores tries, but if you put in freshman Sam Cusano, you probably won't miss a beat. However, having said that, Arizona State is stacked with talent and high-level experience, and ASU could certainly win this pool.
UCLA - Under Head Coach Scott Stewart the Bruins have improved from a good team to one of the best in the country, 7s or 15s. Stewart does well to identify and nurture talent, and they are not afraid of anyone. Yanick Mendes is a big load who is tough to bring down. Niall Barry is a shifty playmaker, and Cian Barry is guts and aggression. James Francis is experienced, and knows how to identify and take opportunities. Watch out for zippy scrumhalf Yoh Nakayama and freshman Patrick French can play a little too.
Arizona - The Wildcats look very good, with the experienced Kyle Rogers and Ben Joseph leading the way. But they are young, very young, with five freshmen in their squad. Those freshmen, though, know a little of how to play rugby. Zach Heisterkamp is a powerful forward; Jake Hedge is a smart, exciting player out of Australia; Anton Grigoriou is a smart flyhalf with kicking skills. All three we High School All Americans. Ben Scoular was a Scotland U18. Watch out also for Garrett Walker, who has taken a big leap forward, and Nick Fadelli, who played defensive back for Arizona before returning to rugby.
Utah - The inimitable Chad Gough leads this team with an uncompromising approach to the game. Josh Webber, who was a HS All American and transferred from BYU, is a very smart back, while Gabe Ruflin is at the center of pretty much every good thing the Utes do. Watch out for youngster Kelsin Pupunu and football crossover Rob Muhlestein. Utah can be elusive, but they can also win the physical battle, and have become, as a result, a multi-dimensional threat.
Stanford - Some good HS products, such as Mitch White out of Saint Ignatius (Ohio) help round out a team that is still building toward something. Nico Sanchez is a very talented player, Cale Williams was a HS All American and has become a good leader on the field, while Guy Kasznik is a defensive powerhouse.
UCLA is favored in this pool simply because they have a ton more experience playing well at a high level. And those players, especially Francis and the Barry boys, have been the ones doing it. They have depth, and they know what works. But you better be in your seat to watch Arizona v Utah at noon on Saturday. That's going to be a killer game, as a lot rides on it. It's possible that UCLA, Arizona, and Utah could finish 2-1 - it's that sort of pool - but it's also possible that a really good team will end up 1-2. Pick that team to win the Bowl on Sunday.