The boys Summer Sevens team gives graduates one last chance to play and youngsters the opportunity to improve

PORTLAND — Coming off a successful spring season in which it placed fifth in the Rugby Oregon varsity premiership, Summer Sevens was exactly what the Newberg boys rugby team needed.

Playing with just seven players instead of the customary 15, sevens is a fast, wide-open and high-scoring version of the game that is well-suited to the laid back nature of summer.

The Tigers just wrapped up their month-long season Saturday at Northgate Park in Portland, where the focus each week was less about winning and more about having fun and improving.

That’s because each team fields a varsity team of incoming seniors and recent graduates, and a junior varsity squad of incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Both teams played two games apiece each weekend. by: SETH GORDON - Busting loose - Recent Newberg graduate Spencer Bain shrugs off a Pendleton defender during a        summer rugby sevens game July 19 at Northgate Park in Portland.

“It’s a really good way to build our skills and keep getting better,” senior Ian Halstead said. “The ultimate goal is to be successful in 15s because that’s the main season. We just want to get better and get in shape. Sevens is all about running and being in shape. It’s a lot of fun.”

For recent graduates, like Alex Cisneros, it’s simply a chance to get back on the field a few more times before heading off to college or getting a job.

“Finishing off the season, you miss it,” Cisneros said. “It’s a great sport. It’s really fun. There’s nothing like playing under Friday night lights football, but rugby, the game is just so much more intense and feels a lot better to play. Sevens is a great way to keep that going.”

Several players were unable to take part in all of the team’s games due to vacations and summer jobs, which contributed to the relaxed atmosphere compared to the spring season.

At the same time, younger and less experienced players have the opportunity to get valuable playing time.

That’s especially important for the Tigers, who lost a big senior class to graduation. In addition, with the Tigers doing so well in fighting to make the top-four playoff through the final week of the season, head coach Rick Rogers wasn’t able to reach deep into his bench to get his youngsters much varsity experience with so much riding on each game down the stretch of the season.

Stefan Grumazescu, a junior, cracked the starting lineup toward the end of his sophomore season and has impressed Rogers and many of the older players with his play this summer, as he’s played on both the JV and varsity squads.

“He’s improved a lot,” Cisneros said. “Dorian (Gallardo) is another guy. He didn’t start very much but subbed during the season and he’s also improved a lot. He’s starting to read the game.”

Grumazescu said it’s been a great learning experience and very fun at the same time, as he scored the first try of his career this summer before adding several more.

“I’d play rugby all year long if I could,” Grumazescu said. “It’s just so fun.”

While the junior varsity team has struggled in terms of results, the varsity team has been up and down in large part due to the fluctuation in player availability, but Newberg flashed it’s potential July 19 by hammering Pendleton in Halstead’s first game this summer.

“I think if we had all the guys all the time, then they can give anybody a game anytime,” Rogers said.

Newberg won the state sevens title during the fall last season, but it’s yet to be seen how many players will come out this year, as the main focus is on the spring 15s season. The feeling around the team is that despite losing so many seniors, the team will be competitive.

“Coach has done a great job keeping everybody moving, to keep that pace and mentality that we always play with,” Cisneros said. “I think everybody is going to do great. I don’t think they’ll have a problem next year.”

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