AHS grad, football player James Kistner finding his love for rugby with Gents
Gents crush Grand Junction in final home game
The Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club concluded its home slate on Saturday with a 72-33 win over visiting Grand Junction at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. After an up and down summer in which rival Vail rose to the top of the Mountain League, the Gents were happy to finish out with a victory.
“The pieces of the puzzle came together, finally. It’s just been one of those years,” Gents coach and player Will Herborn said. “It’s nice to come out here and win in our last home game.”
Aspen could still play one more game this summer, with a possible matchup with the Misfits in Denver on the slate for Aug. 18, depending on player availability. Otherwise, the Gents will turn their attention toward their annual Ruggerfest tournament, which will return for the 51st year from Sept. 13-16 in Aspen.
James Kistner doesn’t see much of a long-term future for himself in football. Rugby, however, is a game he feels he could carry with him long after he earns his degree.
“I’m really looking to play rugby in the future, just because I know football is going to end for me in college,” Kistner said Saturday from Wagner Park in Aspen. “But rugby, it’s just a totally different sport. I don’t know — I love it more. I have a passion for it. In football, it’s a little bit different. I’m looking to take rugby as far as I can.”
Kistner, a 2017 Aspen High School graduate who was a multi-sport standout for the Skiers, is headed back to Los Angeles later this week to begin his sophomore season playing football for NCAA Division III Chapman University. Back home in Aspen this summer, he’s spent the past few months playing for the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, including in Saturday’s win against visiting Grand Junction.
“It’s not bad. But there is still a bit to go,” Gents coach Will Herborn said of Kistner’s development in rugby. “But I’d say he is on the tipping point of where he’ll see another exponential growth, because he’s picked it up phenomenally. Even in the last week, he’s really been learning.”
Kistner only started to play rugby last summer, after graduating from AHS. Despite growing up in Aspen, where rugby has long been a summer staple, the sport never really crossed paths with him. The Junior Gents, the de facto high school team, competes in the spring, which also coincided with Kistner’s main spring activity, lacrosse.
“There are so many sports pressured on you, depending on the season, and lacrosse just stuck with me,” Kistner said. “I didn’t even know about rugby until high school, and then it was a little late. I had already put in six or seven years into lacrosse.”
For now, football will continue to remain No. 1 for Kistner. A lineman in high school, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kistner — according to his freshman bio on the Chapman athletic site — has transitioned to playing tight end for the Panthers. He played mostly special teams as a freshman, where Chapman finished 6-3 overall, but hopes to push for a starting spot this fall. He thinks both rugby and his experience on the offensive line in high school could pay big dividends on that happening.
“I’m pretty happy I played O-line in high school, just because most things that tight ends can’t do is block, and playing O-line in high school I know how to block,” Kistner said. “Rugby makes you better as well. That’s why I love doing it in the summer. It gets your hands in tune.”
Kistner will get one more night of touch rugby in this week before heading back to California. And he’ll no doubt return home each summer to play with the Gents. At some point, whether that is sooner or later, rugby will probably become his top athletic priority, which is all the better for the Aspen club.
“He’s trying to step it up. He sees a bit of a future in the game,” Herborn said. “He was quite naturally gifted last year, but now as he is developing to become a better player, he is having to dig a little bit deeper. It’s awesome. He is crossing that line.”
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The Aspen High School ski team wrapped up its short and sweet regular season Friday with home races at Highlands. The Skiers hosted both a slalom and giant slalom on Thunderbowl, with an AHS athlete taking three of the wins.