Gentlemen of Aspen set off early fireworks
The Aspen Times
The Gentlemen of Aspen jumped the gun on the Fourth of July fireworks.
The Gents touched off a holiday blast of their own Saturday afternoon, blitzing past the visiting Misfits 52-24 in a rugby game at Rio Grande Park.
The Aspen rugby club, unbeaten on the summer season, ignited an offensive explosion after the two teams traded defensive stands in the opening minutes of the game.
Wiehan Pretorius scored a pair of quick tries and Wes LaBorte added another try under the post for the surging Gents, who suddenly led 24-0.
When Aspen’s James Aldridge broke free on a dazzling run up the middle of the field for another try, Aspen led 31-0 at halftime.
International standouts Lungile Tshuma and Ben Mitchell teamed up for Aspen’s first score of the second half.
Mitchell, a college student in his native Ireland, dazzled the crowd midway through the second half when he ran free from midfield for another Aspen try.
“I’m not used to getting that much space,” said Mitchell, who is in Aspen for a summer of rugby. The lanky second-row said he was just hanging back and looking for a kick when the field opened up in front of him.
“We’ve been working hard all week in training, and it paid off today,” said Mitchell, who added that the new edition Gents have become a team in three short weeks.
“We came here three weeks ago, and we’re like brothers straightaway,” Mitchell said as the rain, which started with 15 minutes to play, poured down on Rio Grande Park. “Yeah … this is like perfect conditions in Ireland.”
Teammate Tshuma, who directed the Gents’ back line and kicking game, also stressed the teamwork the Gentlemen have developed in a short period of time.
“I think the key to it is we’re brothers on the field and off the field,” Tshuma said. “And it starts off the field.”
That brotherhood, he said, carries over to training where “we want to make everyone better every day.”
A senior at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, Tshuma said quick passing and working the ball into space becomes contagious.
And when he connects with Aldridge on a big play, the whole team celebrates.
“We kind of thrive on sharing (the ball), especially (passes) for the crowd to love and enjoy,” Tshuma said. “We all came here from different parts of America, different parts of the world. And it’s hard to get people on the same page. But everyone is doing their best, and it’s melding very well.”
The Gents’ summer roster includes players from Zimbabwe, Ireland, South Africa, Wales and beyond, as well as college players from LSU, Middle Tennessee State, UCLA and beyond.
The visiting Misfits, a blend of players from the Front Range, hit the scoreboard in the second half, putting up four tries against the deep Gentlemen of Aspen team.
The Gents improved to a perfect 3-0 for the full-side summer season.
They’ll hit the road next week for a game at Steamboat Springs, followed by a game at Vail.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.