In many ways, last fall was historic for the Gamecocks. For the first time since 2015, USC advanced to the Southeastern Collegiate Rugby Conference (SCRC) Championship game where the team fell short in a thrilling 27-22 contest against Tennessee. The squad also advanced to the 8-team National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) play-offs where they were worn down 27-5 by top-seeded Louisville, a squad that advanced to the NCR finals.
The Gamecocks also placed five members on the SCRC All-Conference team: Grant Howard, Gavin Bennett, Dan Golden, Jack Van Vliet and Nick DuBois. USC finished the fall ranked 7 by NCR.
This Spring, the squad will look to build upon last year’s remarkable 7s season, which saw the Gamecocks capture the SCRC championship and compile a 25-11-1 record, including a 6-3 record in two national championship tournaments.
USC returns much of the 13-man roster that competed in the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) 7s Championship Tournament last May. Former Captain John Golden, Grayson Toney and Gavin Bennet have graduated while Callum Shand (an international exchange student) returned to Scotland.
Tom Allison, Dan Golden, Isaac Ambs, Jack Van Vliet, Quinn Lafferty, Grant Howard and Peter Blackburn, who anchored the 7s squad last year, return. Jack McGoldrick, who suffered a broken ankle last Fall, looks to return to play in April.
Veteran players Jack Kelly, Connor Lane, Andrew Reese, Kevin Lacy and newcomers Nick Dubois, Pierson Braddock, Grant Ruhlen, Matt Morrow, Nick Brescio and Jack Chelly (a Scottish flyhalf who missed much of the fall season due to an ankle injury) will provide depth and press for starting time.
While USC lacked the bulkiness that was needed to carry the team deep into the 15s playoffs, the squad is loaded with height and speed, which should pay dividends this Spring.
“We will field a very fast, deep, and talented 7s team,” said Coach John Roberts. “Last year, the season stretched into late May. This year, the season is more compressed as nationals will be held April 29-30. So, it will be important for us to develop cohesion quickly and come out of the blocks strong.”
The Gamecocks will open the 7s campaign February 4 at the Furman University Invitational in Greenville. Belmont Abbey, Citadel, Clemson, Lander, Kentucky, Furman, and Western Carolina will compete. On February 18, USC travels to Clemson where they will take on traditional SCRC powers Kentucky, Tennessee and Clemson.
A big test will also come February 25 when the squad travels to Southern Virginia University to take part in a Big East 7s Tournament that will attract many D-1A programs. South Carolina will host its own 7s tournament March 18. The Citadel, UNC-Wilmington, Belmont Abbey and Guilford will make up that field. The SCRC 7s Championship is scheduled for April 1.
Alec Giakas (left), a 2019 USC graduate who is attending medical school, will return to the coaching staff later this month and will take a leading role in developing the 7s program. Giakas, who turned down Major League Rugby offers to pursue a career in medicine, coached last spring but could not attend tournaments due to academic obligations.
“Alec is a great tactician, tremendous competitor, and played a huge role in our success last year,” said Roberts. “His schedule is much more flexible this Spring, and we are looking forward to him taking an expanded role with our young men.”