Gents pound Chicago, win 7th straight Ruggerfest title
A native son came home to roost Sunday at Wagner Park, and the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club, the adopted sons, rode again ? this time into seventh heaven.Behind two tries from Aspen native Alec Parker, the 1993 Aspen High product and tourney MVP, and two more from Tasi Mounga, a punishing runner with hands the size of rakes, a marauding mix of Gents vets and rookies captured a seventh straight Ruggerfest championship.Filling the legendary shoes of Mark Williams at fly half, Dean Walsh also added 11 points with his boot, including a 50-meter drop-kick, as Aspen thumped the Chicago Lions 41-17 in the final of the 35th annual rugged rite of fall.All told, Aspen now has 14 Ruggerfest titles to go with its string of six U.S. National Championships, the latest of which was decided at Wagner Park in June.”I hadn’t won a championship until I got to Aspen. Now I’ve won I-can’t-count-how-many. It’s a wonderful feeling,” said Jason Walker, the Aspen eight-man and captain, a New Zealander who joined Aspen in 1992. “Wonderful feeling.”For Parker, who grew up watching and wondering about the odd import of a sport on display at local parks, the victory, and later the MVP honor, triggered a wealth of emotion. Parker, 28, quit rugby in 1999, burnt out after a stint with the U.S. National Team. But midway through the Super League season last spring, he rejoined the Gents and played a pivotal role in securing Aspen’s sixth U.S. title. His 6-foot-6 presence was equally instrumental at Ruggerfest.”When I was kid I’d walk by the field and go, ?What the hell are they doing out there? That’s ridiculous,? ? he recalled after Sunday’s victory. “Then one summer they got me to come out; apparently I was going to be a decent player. So through Biege [longtime Gents coach Brian Going], and some other coaches but mostly Biege, they kinda molded me.”I fell in love with it, and sure enough I’m still here. I would’ve never guessed, so it’s just unbelievable. Just a privilege to play for Aspen really.”Mounga punched in Aspen’s first two tries in the opening 20 minutes of play against the Lions, one of four Super League teams in the 14-team championship division. The first try came off an Aspen lineout at five meters, the second after a lively passing sequence from vice-captain Rata Going, the coach’s son, to an airborne Bobby Lochrem to an unmarked Mounga.”Dean Walsh is a very good fly half ? he was able to boom the ball in deep, and they were able to run lineouts,” said Chicago captain Chris McClellan. “They’re too good of a team ? they took advantage of that.”Parker scored his first try on another lineout play in the 29th minute, and Walsh added his third conversion to give Aspen a 21-0 lead. Walsh was five-for-five kicking two-point conversions in the final; his only miss was an early penalty kick that bounced straight back off the post.Chicago’s Duncan Blowers sent a penalty kick through the uprights in the 34th minute, but Walsh responded at the close of the first half with a 45-yarder to retain the 21-point cushion, 24-3.”We wanted to score early in the piece, and we wanted to dictate the game,” coach Going said. “Those early tries were a good indication of that.”Chicago clawed back with a try in the 55th minute, a pack effort scored by David Swart, converted by Blowers. Aspen answered with a Walsh drop-kick from the center line ? “I looked up and didn’t see anyone ? thought I’d have a crack at it,” he said later ? and a Jason Walker try in the 67th minute. Parker ran in his second try off another lineout in the 75th minute, and in the final minute Chicago managed another try by Joe Chesak to reel in Aspen to the respectable 41-17 final.”I’m pretty happy with this one,” said coach Going. “We expected a good tough game from Chicago, and they gave it their best shot. But I gotta praise my boys for the way they stood up to the challenge, the way they played. They played hard ? Aspen boys play hard, and we’ve got some superstars on our team. There’s no doubt about that.”Before kickoff Sunday, Going talked with the team about Gents past, present and future, as it was the first Ruggerfest without several Gents fixtures, like the recently retired Bo Buck, Dougald Gillies, Ian Walker and Williams. (Williams did make his 19th consecutive Ruggerfest appearance, playing with Aspen’s championship over-35 old boys side and championship division side. A tweaked hamstring in Sunday’s old boys final forced him out of Aspen’s match vs. the Lions. See related story, page A15).It was a coming-out party for Aspen’s younger generation. And backs like Rata Going, David Yavala, Ryan Smythe, Bobby Lochrem, Paddy Shaw and Walsh, and forwards like Walker, Parker, Mounga, Monte Earl, Fleming Trane, Mark Wisroth, Sean Maguire and Karl Siteine answered the call in the affirmative. “A team effort,” coach Going said.”I said to the guys, ?It’s up to you today,? ? Walker said. ? ?It’s not that these old guys have retired, it’s that they don’t want to come back and battle for their position with you guys. You need to show that to ?em today,? and I think they did. All the young guys just lifted their level of playing.”For Parker, who was soured on rugby after the frustrating experience with the U.S. National Team, Sunday’s victory represented more than another Ruggerfest title. It was validation of the Aspen idea, Gentlemen-style.”The teamwork ? there’s not a player who’s got an ounce of grudge on anyone else. It’s not the kind of thinking you’ll get with a team that’s been put together with the best players you can find. Everyone thinks, ?Well this is how it should be done.? ? Parker said. “It doesn’t exist here. Everyone’s like, ?Whatever it takes.? ?
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