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TOLA Recap 2024: Weeks 1&2

The sounds of sunscreen spraying, ice chests being filled, and the chugging of water as one attempts to maintain hydration can only mean one thing, the summer sevens season is upon us. A staple of the Texas Rugby Union calendar, the summer 7s is a fun and social way to travel around the region, connect with friends, and compete in the shortened version of rugby union because it’s too damn hot to play XVs. Two competitions of the sevens run simultaneously; the RRRC, which leads to qualification for the USA Rugby Club 7s National Championships, and TOLA, which promises endless bragging rights and the knowledge that your team went to Shreveport and came home alive.

In this recap we will be covering the two first tournaments of the season, LoneStar 7s (TOLA) and Bloodfest 7s (TOLA and RRRC). We’ll provide full recaps of the RRRC and TOLA divisions of both tournaments, as well as make some jokes on behalf of the teams who participated, the clubs who hosted, and the weather. No jokes will be made about the referees, because a referee is writing this article. Some jobs have their perks. Onto the recaps!

LoneStar 7s - Dallas, TX

Per tradition, teams from around the TRU region headed to Dallas, TX to kick off their sevens campaign at the 43rd annual LoneStar 7’s. Clubs often target LoneStar as the battleground to test their RRRC sides before the first qualifier of the year; and to scout out the competition. Topping out at 96 degrees Fahrenheit this year, it was also the opportunity to get accustomed to the beautiful summer weather Texas is known for. 

Men's Open

This division is always one of the spiciest at LoneStar. It’s the opportunity to see how the top teams look coming from the XV season and what exciting signings have come onboard for the sevens. Pool A was made up of host club Dallas 1, HEB 1 (which refers to the cities Hurst, Euless, and Bedford and not the grocery chain), Huns 2, and the young Gorilla side who has featured at RugbyTown 7s. Pool B had returning champions Huns 1 facing off against the Dallas Quins, Dallas RFC 2, and the unpredictable dark horse Tulsa.

Pool A had all the makings of an upset from the start. Dallas had to rally until the final minute to take down Gorilla while Huns 2 topped HEB by only a conversion. Gorilla then defeated HEB while Dallas squeaked by Huns 2. In the final pool matches, HEB won an absolute thriller against previously undefeated Dallas, pulling out their first win in style 22-21. The Huns managed to finish 2nd after breezing by Gorilla 31-10. Pool B was a bit more cut and dry, the Huns 1 went 3-0 despite a spicy face off against the Quins 1 in the final match. Quins 2 took the second berth, while Dallas 2 finished 2-1 and Tulsa left scoreless.

Home team Dallas were matched up against (technically also the home team) Dallas Quins in the first semifinal while a riveting water balloon fight between Huns 1 and Huns 2 took place on the other field. Just kidding, they kind of played rugby, but I bet they wish they had water balloons. It was a back and forth match (back to Dallas v Dallas now, not the water balloons) with the score within one try at the end. The Quins would take the lead and dive over the goal line to take the game out of Dallas’ reach, winning 31-22 and heading to the cup final.

While the Huns looked to defend their title, the Quins looked to take the trophy at their first LoneStar final in years; it was all up for grabs. A thrilling back and forth would ensue, a spicy second act to the pool match earlier in the day. This would end just as the pool play one did, with the Huns victorious 17-14, another title under their belts. In the third place playoff, Dallas finally got some retribution and took down Huns 2 22-21, thrilling the fans and bringing the boot home.

Women's Open

The Women’s division had teams from all regions of the TRU. Two pools of three teams each, Pool A had FreeTail 7s Champions HEB against the Austin Valkyries and the OKC Mountain Boomers (we all know OKC is known for its impressive mountain ranges). Pool B had hosts Dallas RFC, crosstown rivals Dallas Quins, and the always strong sHARCs from Houston.

HEB comfortably topped their pool scoring 58 total points while only allowing 12. The Quins had similar numbers in the opposite bracket, only allowing a single try. The Valkyries took second with a 19-5 win over the OKC Mountain Boomers while the sHARCs thanked a skilled boot for their 12-10 win over Dallas RFC, vaulting them into second. 

Since there were only six teams total, play-ins were held for slots to the semis while the top seeds had the bye. The sHARCs made quick work of their battle with the women of OKC, scoring an impressive 38 points in 14 minutes. The Valkyries had more of an arm wrestle with Dallas, but managed to find themselves in the semi with a 22-12 win. Both semifinals were comfortable wins for the top seeds, and it would be the Quins versus HEB in the match for the cup. An instant classic, these two teams battled it out, but in the end the Quins had no answer for the size and speed HEB brought to the battle and HEB took home the title 17-7. In the third place, the Valkyries turned it on too late, unable to slip by the sHARCs who took the bronze with a 38-5 win.

Bloodfest 7s - Austin, TX

The second tournament of the summer is the biggest party on this side of the Red River, Bloodfest 7s in Austin, TX (technically Round Rock but that wouldn’t sound nearly as cool). Hosted by the Austin Huns, this tournament has its history rooted in sunny summer Saturdays at Zilker park. Each year the tournament has grown, now requiring a full Friday night session for the youth and high school, in addition to the 9 fields used throughout the day on Saturday. This tournament is historically the first RRRC qualifier, bringing together the best of the best hoping to kick off their National campaign on the right foot.

We will cover four of the eight available divisions; Men’s Premier and Social and Women’s Premier and Social – as they are in the running for TOLA and RRRC points.

Men's Premier

Fifteen total teams participated, split into five pools. Teams that jumped out to us were the Dallas RFC, the Austin Huns, and the Quins who all had two sides; the Columbus Crewman, led by Texas legend Corey Jones; HEB, in strong form from LoneStar; and Faith Family Rugby who dazzled at FreeTail. 

The top team from each pool qualified for quarterfinals, followed by the three best second place teams. Undefeated pool leaders Huns 1, Huns 2, Dallas 1, Dallas 2, and Quins 1 secured their place first and would be joined by the Columbus Crewmen, Gorilla U23, and Faith Family Rugby whose point differentials were enough to give them the nod. All four quarters had the makings of excellent games of footy, as the margins between the top and second seeds were negligible. The largest margin match was the Columbus Crewmen, who were unable to score against LoneStar 7s Champs the Austin Huns 1. Dallas Rugby 2 had their work cut out for them when the young and hungry Gorilla side came for blood. In the end, experience would reign supreme as Dallas squeaked through 19-14. Dallas Rugby 1 also clocked a 26-7 win over the Huns 2, sending both Dallas sides into the semis. The final quarter would be the first upset of the playoffs as Faith Family Rugby emerged victorious over LoneStar runners-up the Dallas Harlequins.

Unlike LoneStar, the Dallas sides ended up in opposite semifinals; the second side taking on Faith Family Rugby, while the Huns 1 played Dallas 1. Faith had finally found their hot streak and easily dispatched the Reds 35-7, while one of the RRRC classic matches took place beside them. The Huns were determined to raise the trophy that they had ordered earlier in the month, and amazed fans as they throttled Dallas RFC 31-7. It all came down to the final, Faith versus Huns 1. In the least dramatic of the Bloodfest finals, the Huns made quick work of their opponents and cemented their place at the top of the Texas food chain with a 31-0 blanking of Faith. In the Men’s Premier Black Final (Bowl) HEB defeated the Austin Blacks 28-14 to finish 9th, while in the Red Final (Plate), the Dallas Harlequins won a last minute thriller over the Columbus Crewmen 21-19 to claim 5th.

Women's Premier

Seven teams entered the premier bracket at Bloodfest, with four looking for RRRC qualification points. Pool A had PEAKS, Faith Family Rugby, the Dallas Harlequins, and Little Rock competing for the top two spots while Pool B pitted LoneStar Champions HEB against Magandaquins and the sHARCs.

PEAKS breezed through the pool, putting up an impressive 68PD across three pool games. Faith finished 2-1, while the Quins went 1-2 and Little Rock were yet to clock a win. In Pool B it wasn’t as cut and dry as all three teams went 1-1; HEB beating the Magandaquins, the Magandaquins beating the sHARCs, and then the sHARCs beating HEB. Thanks to a single conversion kick in the points differential, HEB took the top spot over Magandaquins, while sHARCs finished at the bottom. 

The semifinals had HEB against Faith while Magandaquins took on PEAKS. Finally out of their pool of death, HEB surged to a strong win over Faith Family Rugby, while Magandaquins put up strong numbers against PEAKS, although falling short at the final hurdle. Fueled by their win in the semis and the taste of victory (and another trophy), it seemed that HEB couldn’t be stopped – and as it turns out, they couldn’t. PEAKS may have flown through the pool stages and semis, but HEB would be ones to lift the trophy thanks to an impressive 26-12 win in the final. In the bronze, Faith would remedy their errors in the semi to take 3rd over Magandaquins.

Men's Social

A sweet sixteen in this year’s social bracket made four very nice pools of four. Instead of teams that were most likely to win, I made a list of the ones with the best names to highlight the excitement in this pool. Social media meme-masters Albuquerque Aardvarks highlighted Pool A with the Houston Chupacabras. The Hill Country Blues Rugby were in Pool B, while the River Rats took on the Blackyardigans in Pool C. Pool D wasn’t super creative so I’ll have to give it to Old Maroon RFC as the top emerging from that pool.

Turns out, fun names aren’t the only decider in who will win a tournament. Huns Social (ranked low on my rating of team names) were the clear leaders in Pool A, going 3-0 with an impressive 116PD. Joining them in the quarterfinals from Pool A were DARC, who went 2-1 with wins over the Aardvarks and Chupacabras. Not a good day to be an animal in Pool A, real or imagined. Old Skool and OKC Crusaders who tied in pool play, both finished 2-0-1 and made it to playoff rounds, with Old Skool taking the top seed thanks to an overall higher PD. Unlike Pool A, apparently it paid off to be an animal in Pool C as the River Rats and the Crabs took the top two slots. In Pool D, the Fort Worth Outlaws finished top, closely followed by HEB 2.

Headed into the quarters, the best of the best competed for the title of Bloodfest Men’s Social Champions. In the first match, the home team proved too good to stop as they steamrolled over OKC 28-0. Top seed Old Skool also had a strong showing in their quarter as they comfortably took down DARC 31-7. The closest quarterfinal was a back and forth try-fest between the River Rats and HEB 2, with the Rats reigning supreme at final whistle 31-28. Fort Worth Outlaws would be the final team in the semis, after their 28-14 showing over the Crabs.

The excitement wouldn’t end as we pressed on to the semifinals, Huns versus Fort Worth Outlaws and the River Rats versus Old Skool. The Outlaws were unfortunately on the outs, as the home team continued their perfect run into the final. Meanwhile the luck of the River Rats had run out, as the south of Austin team lost to the north of Austin Ft Hood Old Skool 38-7.

It all came down to the final match of the day, the Huns; bolstered by the cheers of the home town fans and all the ruggers too drunk and tired to have gone home yet, and Old Skool Rugby ready for the upset of their club’s history. It was Old Skool, it was the Huns, it was the sun, it was a great game of rugby. In the end, the Huns would do as their Premier counterparts did, and take home the gold. 

Women's Social

Three pools in the Women’s Social competition, with many familiar club names present. Pool A had the OKC Mountain Boomers with their northern neighbors Dallas RFC and Dallas Harlequins 2 joining the home side, the Austin Valkyries 2. Pool B had Texas summer sevens classic Maulgaritaville against the Fullmoons and Round Rock Rage while Pool C was led by the Austin Valkyries 1 and the two Houston sides, Bay Area and the sHARCs Minnows. 

Emerging from pool play, there were three clear leaders who all went undefeated – the OKC Mountain Boomers, Maulgaritaville, and the Austin Valkyries. Dallas RFC also impressed with their 2-1 record over the Quins 2 and Valks 2; enough to put them in the Championship semifinals where they would face the Austin Valkyries. The Valkyries proved too much to handle for Dallas however; as they surged by the Reds 33-5 in pursuit of the trophy. In the other semifinal, Maulgaritaville took down the OKC Boomers with a 29-5 statement win and headed to yet another Bloodfest Social Final.

It would be the pride of Austin Texas against the cleverly named Jimmy Buffet tribute from Dallas for the final match of the day. Both teams brought their A-game and sparks flew from the pitch. In the end it was the sharp boot from the kicker that converted all three tries giving Maulgaritaville the edge, and the win; 21-17 over the Valkyries.

Next up is Choctaw 7s in Durant, Oklahoma; the second RRRC qualifier and the only TOLA tournament held north of Texas. The weather forecast calls for a high of 100 with a 24% chance of storms, and a 100% chance of epic rugby. Stay hydrated folks, and remember that in 7s – it ain’t over till it’s over.