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Monday, January 4, 2016

NAI 7s Planning For Another Big Year

Once again one of the biggest youth 7s tournaments in the country is set to be played in Utah. The North American Invitational 7s aims to not only be one of the biggest tournaments in the country but also the globe. We sat down with tournament director Michael Cressler to get more information.

TIAR: For those who aren't aware what is the North American Invitational 7s and how did it begin?

Michael Cressler: The first NAI7s was held in 2011 at Rio Tinto Stadium. It was initially a tournament for local teams with great aspirations. The 7s landscape in the state at that time was pretty bleak in Utah and there was not a great deal of youth 7s tournaments in the US either. Credit for the idea has to be given to Col. Mark Drown who really led the charge for 7s in the state and really made the first tourney happen.

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TIAR: How has the tournament evolved over the last few years?

MC: The tournament has grown up. It was initially limited in participation due to its location at Rio Tinto Stadium but with the opening of the new Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City, it has enabled the tournament to really look at bringing in domestic and international teams.  The new facility, plus the backing of the Utah Rugby Academy and its partners,  has opened up huge possibilities.

TIAR: What type of facilities will be available to teams at the tournament?

MC: The RAC is an incredible complex. It has 16 fields, 8 of which have lighting, plus a championship field with stadium seating. All fields are hardwired to allow for streaming of most, if not all, games in the tournament. Close proximity to downtown ( 10 minutes), airport ( 10 min), and hotels (5 min) make this an ideal location. For spectators and players, there is also a food truck pavilion with local foodtrucks serving a wide variety of dishes.  Hotel are close enough for trips back to the hotel if needed midday.

TIAR: What age brackets are you looking for?

MC: This is a youth based tournament and it will focus on the youth. There will be, for boys and girls, u18 elite, u18 open, u16 and u14.  There will also be a camp running concurrently onsite for kids under 12 yrs old to learn the game and have some fun!

TIAR: What level of competition are you hoping for out of the tournament?

MC: The pinnacle will be the Elite brackets.  There are some fantastic academies that have come online and have a need for high levels of competition. For many of these elite academy teams, they usually end up at a tourney where one or two teams are at their level and the rest are blowouts. That is not good for anyone. With the Elite and open divisions, teams can self-segregate and get the level of competition that they need.

There is also the goal of a North American Championship. This tournament is placed at the end of the major youth tournaments in the US, Canada, and Caribbean. The desired draw for the Elite division are those teams that have excelled during the summer will have a place to come and challenge each other for a North American and Caribbean championship. We took the idea that the organizers of the NIT have used and created a NACRA style championship for the youth. The different divisions will allow for maximum opportunity for high level play and the progression that is also needed.

TIAR: For a team that signs up, what can they expect from the tournament?

MC: Aside from great rugby in a great location, we will have evening entertainment that is age appropriate.  We are working with our local theme park, Lagoon, to have a rugby night on Friday evening after the matches. We will also have a tour of the Olympic training facilities here in Utah for coaches that are interested. We will have our partner ACES ( Academic Consulting for Elite Students) run a Q&A panel discussion for rugby athletes and parents. Lastly, we will have a coaching summit for academy coaches and administrators to discuss how we more efficiently build HP platforms as part of a national pipeline into the Olympic and National pools.

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