Misfits beat Gents of Aspen to win Ruggerfest crown
The city of Aspen might have some objections, but Evergreen’s Whitey Nelson told his wife he would like to have his ashes become a permanent part of Wagner Rugby Stadium one day.
“Aspen is magical to our family,” Nelson said. “We look forward to it every year. I haven’t missed a Ruggerfest in 20 years.”
And after two decades of taking part in Aspen Ruggerfest, with this year being the 49th year of the annual rugby tournament, Nelson’s feelings toward the event only seem to be growing. It was his squad, the Dark ’n Stormy Misfits, that defeated The Gentlemen of Aspen, 47-20, on Sunday at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen to win its first Ruggerfest open division crown in two tries.
“Congratulations to them. They are a class outfit,” Gents coach Cameron McIntyre said. “They showed across the board their depth of players and their abilities. It was a good display.”
This is the ninth year the Misfits rugby organization has existed, its 35s side having been a dominant force at Ruggerfest each year. Nelson, who serves as a coach and organizer for the Misfits, as well as occasional player, only entered an open division team into Ruggerfest for the first time last year. In 2015, the Dark ’n Story Misfits lost to the Gents, 51-27, in the finals.
But in 2016, with a retooled roster full of pro players — many with U.S.A. Eagle connections — Nelson’s crew was able to flip the script and claim Ruggerfest’s top spot.
“Over the years, Aspen has been our bar. That’s where we wanted to be, where we aspired to be,” Nelson said of the Gents. “We’ve been on the opposite end of many beatings by them.”
The final match Sunday was close early, with Aspen jumping out to a 3-0 lead. But costly injuries made in-game scenarios difficult on the Gents, who quickly fell behind, 19-6, by halftime.
Aspen scored its first try about a third of the way through the second half to make it 26-13, but any chance of a comeback soon disappeared, and the Misfits pulled away for the win. Dark ’n Stormy star Ata Malifa was named most valuable player.
“There is no die there. It was full-on until the end,” McIntyre said. “We were still looking to score points when we had no real opportunity to win it at the end. We were looking to finish out the way we should. We are very proud of our people.”
The Misfits organization didn’t leave with just the open championship Sunday. Its masters 35s side defeated the Gents 35s side, 17-12, its 45s side defeated Olympic Club, 30-8, and its women’s team — the Goslings Gold MissFits — defeated Black Ice, 15-0, to give Nelson four Ruggerfest titles for 2016.
The women’s championship particularly stood out for Nelson. The MissFits were only put together this season, and they even lost, 21-10, to the Black Ice during pool play Saturday. In the rematch, the MissFits defense made the most of the second chance.
With five teams this fall, the women’s field was one of the largest it had ever been at Ruggerfest, and there is hope to see it continue to grow.
“When people hear it’s growing and it’s really competitive, then people are going to want to come because it’s so fun,” said MissFits coach and player Tina Nesberg. “To me, this is like rugby Mecca. I play my best rugby on Wagner — it’s just the mountains and the community. You meet people all week, Wednesday through Sunday. It’s just like another world. It’s the best rugby tournament in the country.”
The Old Boys 50s tournament was won by Cardinals Rugby, a 17-8 win against Boulder, with the Cardinals also winning the 55s bracket, topping the Florida Old Boys, 31-15, in the final.
With 2016 in the bag, work is already set to begin for Ruggerfest 2017, which will be the milestone 50th tournament in Aspen. Nelson already has committed to bring his Misfits teams back, and joining them could be an even larger and more competitive group than this weekend.
“We are very excited for the 50th, but congratulations to all of the winners here at the 49th. We had a great weekend of rugby,” Aspen Rugby Club President Fleming Trane said. “We are going to put the 49th to bed and start working on the 50th. We are expecting to get started on it immediately. We’ve already had a lot of teams express interest in coming out. It’s going to be an exciting weekend of rugby.”
The 50th annual Aspen Ruggerfest is scheduled for the third week of September 2017.
Visit http://www.aspen-ruggerfest.com for full results from the weekend.
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