The premier summer showcase for rugby in Tacoma returned on July 27, as 29 men’s, women’s and high school teams from around the region converged on Portland Avenue Park for the 36th Annual Tacoma Aroma 7’s Tournament.
“We try to keep it growing every year,” said Ryan McHugh, president of the host Tacoma Rugby Club and coach of the Tacoma Nomads. “It’s the longest running sevens tournament in the Northwest.”
The Nomads – in the men’s tournament – started off with a solid 29-5 win over Missoula in their opener in pool play. They followed that up with an exciting 14-12 win over the Eastside Axemen, as Robby Lavatai used blazing speed to score twice on breakaway runs for the Nomads.
“I just tried to use what they gave me,” said Lavatai, who joined the Tacoma Rugby Club two years ago after first taking up the sport 10 years ago. “See a gap and go for it. Put your head down and go for the score.”
In a tense few minutes late in the first half, the Nomads’ defense came up with big stops three times to preserve a tight 7-5 lead at the break, and proving to be the key part of the match.
But the Nomads came up against perennial heavyweight Old Puget Sound Beach (OPSB) in the first round of the playoffs, quickly bringing the momentum to an end. Lavatai quickly got the Nomads on the board, breaking down the right side for a long try to make it 5-0. But after that it was all OPSB, as they broke for several long scores and breezed to the win.
“You can only play defense for so long, and it’s hard work to play defense,” McHugh said. “There’s just too much firepower. We broke down. We gave it a shot and did the best we could.”
OPSB would later take the tournament title by topping Oregon Sports Union (ORSU) of Portland. While the Nomads settled for third place in the men’s bracket, the Tsunamis – the high school team for the Tacoma Rugby Club – found the road similarly difficult in their tournament. Facing Prairie in their opener, the Tsunamis battled to just a 5-0 deficit at the half, but couldn’t create much offensive attack as they managed a late score but fell 17-5. They later were eliminated 26-0 by top seed Liberty, the eventual tournament winners.
The Tacoma Sirens started off with a convincing 19-5 win over Chuckanut in the women’s tournament, but were blanked 24-0 by ORSU in their second pool contest. The Sirens were topped again by ORSU in the finals to settle for second place.
Along with all of their clubs, the tournament provided valuable experience for a growing number of Nomads players in the starting lineup, including new members Cameron Archie and Kwabi Amoah Forson. The team was also boosted by contributions from former Tsunamis Jamar Prater, Nick Lonn and Nick Lipoma, while Brandon Williams rounded out the solid starting group.
With rugby sevens set to make its debut in the 2016 Olympics, it’s safe to say that the Tacoma Aroma will be a tournament that continues to grow in the near future.
“It’s basically a good environment,” Lavatai said. “You come up here and play the game hard. Everything is left on the field. You come off and everybody is brothers, basically.”
“Sevens is growing,” added McHugh. “It’s a crowd favorite because there’s so much action. You don’t have to know much about rugby to understand it. (There’s) a lot of big hits and good skills.”