Madison Hughes
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U.S. captain Madison Hughes previews Collegiate Rugby Championship; TV schedule

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This weekend’s Collegiate Rugby Championship could be a springboard to the Olympics for the nation’s best sevens players.

Just ask the current captain of the U.S. national team, Madison Hughes, who starred in the CRC as a Dartmouth freshman in 2012, when the Big Green repeated as champion.

“The CRC played a big role in my development as a rugby player,” the London-born Hughes said while on a Manhattan media tour for Penn Mutual on Wednesday. “When I first got to college, the CRC was the pinnacle of college rugby, and it had just begun [in 2010]. A lot of my teammates were speaking about it, and then when I experienced it, I think it was really my first experience of a high-level rugby tournament.”

NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will have live coverage of the CRC from Philadelphia on Saturday (pool play) and Sunday (playoff rounds and championship):

DATE COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
Sat., June 4 Rugby Rising 1 p.m. NBCSN
  Pool Play 2-4 p.m. NBCSN, Live Extra
Pool Play 4-6 p.m. NBC, Live Extra
Sun., June 5 Rugby Rising (Encore) 1 p.m. NBCSN
  Playoff Rounds 2-4 p.m. NBCSN, Live Extra
Playoff Rounds 4-6 p.m. NBC, Live Extra
Wed., June 8 Pool Play* 7 p.m. CSN Philadelphia
Thurs., June 9 Pool Play* 7 p.m. CSN Philadelphia
Fri., June 10 Pool Play* 7 p.m. The Comcast Network
Pool Play* 9 p.m. The Comcast Network

*Encore presentation

After his freshman-year title, Hughes played two more CRCs with Dartmouth before focusing on his international career in his senior season. Now, Hughes is seen as one of the safest picks to be named to the first U.S. Olympic men’s rugby sevens team in Rio later this summer.

A few more of Hughes’ current teammates on rugby’s biggest global stage — the World Series — have CRC experience. The list includes Danny Barrett (University of California), Brett Thompson (Arizona) and Peter Tiberio (Arizona).

This weekend, several more Olympic hopefuls — for Tokyo 2020 — could establish themselves at the CRC.

Three-time reigning champion California will be favored for the team title, Hughes said.

“I’ve got to back my boys at Dartmouth and say that we’re going to try and regain the title,” he said. “Life [University] have been very good the last few years. Kutztown are always very good. University of Arizona have been very good as well.”

Hughes said to expect similar game play at the CRC as there will be in the Olympics, with perhaps one notable difference.

“The game’s not going to change, but the speed of the game might increase [in Rio],” he said. “Players are bigger, faster, stronger, just because you have that full-time environment where we’re training. You’ve also got a bit more tactical elements and a bit more cohesiveness among the teams. The ball will move a bit quicker in the Olympics, but it’s the same game.”

MORE: Ebner, Isles miss U.S. rugby roster for World Series finale

U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

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Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

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U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Cauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

U.S. athletes qualified for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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The U.S. Olympic team roster for the 2020 Tokyo Games will eventually reach more than 500 athletes. It is currently at seven.

Qualifying competitions and Olympic Trials events dot the schedule from now into early summer 2020.

Athletes qualified so far:

Modern Pentathlon
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Sport Climbing
Brooke Raboutou

Swimming
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Triathlon
Summer Rappaport

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