Columbus Olympic Rugby Conference
Sevens league expands in second summer
Ben Williams is looking forward to becoming a full-time participant on the Ohio State men's club rugby team over the coming months.
For at least a couple more weeks, the 2012 Big Walnut High School graduate is planning to enjoy one last opportunity to compete against other members of his class and younger players in the Columbus Olympic Rugby Conference (CORC).
If nothing else, the extra running he's getting in this summer should do him well in the future.
Williams is playing for Westerville North in the CORC, which currently includes seven club teams playing what's called rugby sevens.
Traditional rugby has 15 players per side and 80-minute games, but the second-year CORC features seven players per team and games that have two seven-minute halves and a one-minute halftime.
"Rugby sevens helps out with your fitness," Williams said. "It also really helps improve your individual skills, your athleticism and your ball skills and helps you see the field better."
The CORC was created last summer and featured six teams.
The Westerville Worms club program has two entries in the league, with the other being Westerville South.
Licking Valley, Pickerington and Upper Arlington again have entries in the league, and Dublin and Gahanna have new teams.
Bexley and Columbus also are listed as teams on the league's website, but neither fielded enough players to compete during the first two weeks of play.
Through two weeks, Westerville North led the league at 6-0 with 18 points, followed by Westerville South (4-2, 13), Upper Arlington (3-3, 10), Licking Valley (2-3-1, 10), Pickerington (3-4, 9), Dublin (1-4-1, 5) and Gahanna (0-3, 2). Three points are awarded for a win, two points are given for a tie and one point is given for a loss by fewer than seven points.
The opening games were held June 6 at Mifflin, followed by games June 13 at Licking Valley.
Westerville Central was the host school for the third week of play, which was held June 20.
The final day of the regular season will be Wednesday, June 27, at a site to be announced.
What the league is calling a "City Championship" will be played July 11 at Ohio State, and the state tournament will be held July 21 at a site to be announced.
After central Ohio began rugby sevens play a year ago, teams from Cincinnati and Cleveland have followed suit with summer leagues.
The state tournament is expected to include eight teams from throughout the state, with central Ohio expected to have three teams.
"I think it's going very well," Pickerington coach Ryan Gramlich said. "The guys definitely enjoy it. It's a momentum game. For being a 14-minute game, it's really involved."
According to Gramlich, there were about 50 fans watching during the opening week of the season, but attendance increased to about 75 for the second week.
John English, who runs the Worms' program and coaches Westerville North, believes there are numerous reasons rugby sevens is growing in central Ohio.
Among those is that the sport will be in the Olympics for the first time in 2016.
"This year is a little more organized," English said. "Dublin has a team for the first time, Upper Arlington has got some experience from their players playing for Tri-Village (in the spring) and Pickerington has a team as well. I think the overall play is improving."
"I think the sevens game is really catching on because it's a lot more enjoyable to watch and it's easier to play for those who have played both," said Williams, who played for Ohio State's B-side team in addition to competing for the Westerville Worms in the spring. "Even if you have no idea what's going on, it's easier to figure out. The 15s has been going on in Ohio for a long time, but it hasn't caught on like the sevens game has."
In traditional 15s, Westerville had won 14 of the past 15 state championships before losing in a Division I state semifinal this spring.
On June 1 at Mifflin, Lakewood St. Edward defeated Cincinnati Moeller 10-7 in overtime in the Division I final and Cincinnati Indian Springs beat Tri-Village 5-3 in Division II.
"I definitely think sevens rugby will help improve your 15s play," English said. "There's a lot of open-field tackling and ball control that you need to have. We were disappointed in how the 15s season unfolded, but we're getting some of those guys more experience this summer. "(Westerville South) has mostly returning guys for next year and (they were) 4-2 (before June 20) with both of their losses to (Westerville North). Upper Arlington and Licking Valley are probably the next two best teams, although Pickerington's good, too. Most of the games are pretty competitive."
During week two of the CORC, Licking Valley's Calder Shepard was named Player of the Week after scoring 20 points on four tries.
Williams was the overall points leader through two weeks with 66 (eight tries, 13 conversions).
Other top scorers have included Pickerington's Frankie Weirick (47 points), Westerville South's Lance Darraby (40), Shepard (40), Westerville North's Corey Gibson (34), Upper Arlington's Jaime Barlow (33), Westerville South's Eli Torbert (31) and Pickerington's Luke Carothers (30).
Michael Hawks and Jaylin Connelly are among the top players for Dublin, and Evan Taylor and Will Bradshaw are among the top players for Gahanna.
"Last year it kind of started small and grew pretty quickly," said Mike Coughlin, an assistant for Tri-Village who coaches the Upper Arlington team. "The first week (in 2011) only two teams showed up, but I just kept telling the coaches to come, and the second week we had six teams.
"Obviously the Olympics is a big thing, and people in the rugby community are getting behind the sevens game. Sevens is a lot less confusing, there are more breakaways and more scoring, so there's more excitement. The fitness is definitely more intense. Hitting-wise it's not as tough, but you sure need to be able to run all day."