by Nigel Melville
Nigel Melville Direct
Here’s my latest update from my friends at the Quad Rugby as they look forward to London 2012.
Louisville, Kentucky was once again home to the United States Quad Rugby Association’s Division I and Division II National Championships. Jill Farmer and her incredible staff at Frazier Rehab Institute hosted seventeen teams over three days and 41 games from April 27-29. The new venue at the Louisville International Convention Center was mere blocks from the host hotel and the athletes took full advantage of the excitement of Fourth Street.
Difficulties with postseason resulted in the need for a play-in game on Thursday evening. The RHI Indy Brawlers from Indiana and the TIRR Texans from Houston played to determine who would enter the tournament as the 8th seed in Division II. The Texans won handily and the games were ready to begin.
Friday morning began with pool play and few surprises. In DII TIRR showed that they deserved their spot, battling the 1st-seeded St Louis Rugby Rams to a seven-point game and coming within five points of the 3rd-seeded Raleigh Sidewinders. 5th-seeded Minnesota Northstars had the closest game of the day, beating the 4th-seeded Denver Harlequins by only 1 point. The rest of the DII Friday games were won by at least ten points by the higher seed, and provided a good warm-up for the rest of the weekend.
Over in DI the games were hard-hitting but not as close. By the end of the day the top four seeds of Tucson Pterodactyls, Portland Pounders, Sharp Edge (San Diego, CA) and Phoenix Fusion were all undefeated, leaving the Utah Scorpions, Lakeshore Demolition (Birmingham, AL) Texas Stampede (Austin, TX) and Shepherd Smash (Atlanta, GA) with zero points on the board. Friday ended with a pasta dinner at the convention center, held in conjunction with the Louisville Marathon taking place the next day. Several of our players took Saturday morning off to race, coming back to play rugby that afternoon!
Saturday morning started with two blow-out games – Shepherd beat Texas by 20, while TIRR beat the Tampa Generals by 22. Utah edged out a one-point win in the final seconds to beat Lakeshore on the center court in a game that kept everyone on the edge of their seats throughout. Phoenix had entered with an eye towards the title, but those dreams quickly evaporated with their twelve point loss to Portland. Long time rivals and neighbors Minnesota and Michigan Storm faced each other for the umpteenth time this season. One of their recent games ended in a quintuple overtime, but Michigan triumphed on Saturday with a 6-point win. The power team of All-Tournament 3.5 Dave Mengyan and 1.0 Andy Zimmer led the five-man squad, especially impressive since their small size meant they were unable to substitute players like their opponents.
The afternoon crossovers began with three DI games. Portland beat Sharp 55-39, with their head coaches (both of them also assistant coaches on Team USA) ensuring that all of their players saw court time. Phoenix wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat, and with the assistance of their new 3.0 Chance Sumner fought a hard battle against Tucson, ultimately losing by three. Last year’s big rivals Texas and Utah were both pumped up going into their game, but a lack of cohesion amongst the Utah players and a fierce desire to avenge themselves for last year’s loss meant that Texas came ahead 61-54 for their first win of the weekend.
Shepherd played Lakeshore to the only overtime of the weekend – several turnovers and missed opportunities gave Shepherd a three-point advantage at the end of the game. Their high-low line-up with Scott Stokes, Dwayne Nystrom and Rob Deller was difficult for even the higher-seeded teams to penetrate. Seattle and St Louis continued to win all their games, heightening the anticipation for their game on Sunday. Saturday was capped off with the discovery of a bodybuilding, physique and bikini competition taking place at the host hotel. There seemed to be an unusually large group of rugby players sitting around the hotel lobbies…
Sunday morning started with yet another Michigan/Minnesota match-up. Michigan tried to force an overtime, but a turnover with nine seconds remaining in the game gave Minnesota the ball and a chance to score. Minnesota ended the tournament in 7th place in Division II. Texas played Shepherd to a closer game than their earlier encounter, but still lost by 8 points to end with 6th place in Division I. Lakeshore avenged their earlier loss, and led by Team USA 3.0 Del McMillian beat Utah 48-43. All three of the next games could easily have gone either way. Despite close starts, Denver beat Raleigh 49-44 to clinch 3rd place in DII, Phoenix beat Sharp 64-43 for 3rd in DI and TIRR beat Tampa again 44-36 for 5th place in DII. Long-time TIRR member and former Team USA player Steve Kearly announced his retirement after that game. He will be missed, and his Sportsmanship award was richly deserved.
The USQRA annual awards were presented before the DI and DII Championship games. Joe Delagrave, Team USA member and Phoenix 2.0 was presented with Athlete of the Year. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he accepted his award with his wife April and three-month-old baby Braxton standing by his side. He spoke movingly of his start in Minnesota, the coaching he has received from USA and his club side and of his experiences since first making Team USA in 2009. A very deserving athlete, and one who will undoubtedly be a powerful asset to USA in London this fall. The Spirit of Achievement award was given to Carolyn Odom.
Joe Soares was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, but as he was unable to be present at that time there was a separate ceremony this year. Long time friend John Ershek presented him with his plaque, and Joe called up rugby’s American father Brad Mikkelsen to join him on center court during his speech. Congratulations to all our 2012 award winners!
Both sides in the Division II Championship game went in it convinced the game was theirs. Brad Mikkelsen coached All-Tournament 3.0 and Danish import Leon Jorgensen and the rest of the Seattle crew to a close game, but Team Force Assistant Coach Sue Tucker gave St Louis the encouragement they needed to bring home the gold. Best 1.5 Mike Schamburg, Best 2.0 and Team USA member Chuck Melton and MVP Eric Newby played an incredible game until the final buzzer. A disappointment for Seattle, but they’ve come a long way in just a few years.
Everyone had one thought going into the Division I Championship game – was this going to be Portland’s year? Always a bridesmaid, never the bride, Portland has been in the Championship game many times over the years (including the past 3 Nationals) but had never won the gold. Tucson won it last year; would they be able to pull off a repeat? The opening quarter looked like a USA practice – Tucson fielded USA players 3.5 Chuck Aoki, 2.0 Derrick Helton, 1.5 Chad Cohn and 1.0 Jeromy Brown for the first half. Portland started with Belgian import 3.5 Lars Mertens, USA members 2.0 Will Groulx and 2.0 Seth McBride and 0.5 Kip Johnson. While Lars, Will and Kip went on to win All-Tournament for their classes it was not enough and Portland trailed Tucson throughout the game. Tucson won 51-46 for their second DI National Championship.
The Association would like to extend its deepest gratitude to all of our postseason sponsors for their support over the year. Jill Farmer, Jessica Mayse, Karey McDowell and BJ Levis once again put on a superb tournament. Their dedication to our sport in hosting Nationals for the 6th time highlights the best of our volunteers. Nationals will be back in Louisville next year for our 25th anniversary, an event that is not to be missed! For those of you who were unable to attend the games they are all archived atwww.ihigh.com/quadrugby. To find out more, please visit us atwww.quadrugby.com or www.facebook.com/USQRAQuadRugby.
With an impressive resume as player, coach and administrator, Nigel David Melville took over as CEO and President of Rugby Operations of USA Rugby, the National Governing Body of the sport in America, in 2006. In addition to his full time job promoting the sport in the U.S., Melville has launched his own blog, Nigel Melville Direct, to further the discussion and his passion for what it will take to make the U.S. a great rugby playing nation.
CLICK HERE to read more on Nigel Melville
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