Aspen Gents continue pursuit of consecutive 7’s crowns
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Battered and bruised, the Gentlemen of Aspen’s 7’s squad’s pursuit of a second consecutive national title carries on.
The Gents take the pitch Saturday for six games in a West Region tournament at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. The road to San Francisco for August’s national finals, where the top two teams from each of the country’s eight regions will vie for the overall crown, will be far from easy. Included in Aspen’s pool Saturday are some formidable squads, notably the Dallas Black and Chicago Griffins.
“That national championship [in 2008] and how we did [in Dallas] are all out the door. Nobody cares,” Gents 7’s coach Andy Katoa said Friday. “The players just need to play with more consistency and confidence. … You know, all that stuff comes with being prepared mentally and prepared physically. It all goes back to working hard and training and staying healthy.”
Health could be Aspen’s biggest obstacle this weekend. As of Friday afternoon, two key players – Spencer Scott and Will Martin – were questionable for today’s tournament. Scott, suffering with knee and hamstring injuries, and Martin, who continues to battle an aching back, were injured in a 15’s match against Tulsa on the Fourth of July.
Both received physical therapy Friday morning, Katoa said. Final rosters, which include seven starters and three reserves per game, must be turned in at 8 a.m. Saturday.
“With Will and Spencer being in the forward pack, that adjustment would be tough on whoever is put in there,” Katoa said. “That’s the engine room, you know. You really have to be careful.”
The Gents have some leeway given their strong showing in the opening 7’s tournament June 27 in Dallas. Aspen picked up wins in its first five matches before faltering in the final against a familiar foe, the Denver Barbarians.
The top three teams in the final standings earned points, and the two teams that accrue the most points after three West Region tourneys will advance to San Francisco.
The Gents trailed by just three at halftime in the final, thanks to a Mike Palefau try in which he split two defenders and sprinted untouched from midfield. Aspen later had a go-ahead try disallowed when one referee determined that Leonard Peters stepped out of bounds on an 80-meter run up the sideline. The Barbos went on to win, 15-7, on a day when temperatures soared to 104 degrees.
“I was looking at it, and I don’t think he did [step out of bounds]. I didn’t see the white line disrupted,” Katoa said. “I think we got a little bit complacent on a few plays that turned out to be scores for the other team. … We could’ve easily been there. We lost our focus and tried to play differently than what we were taught. … Fatigue was starting to show.
“I thought fitness-wise we were there. … It’s really punishing your body because you’re literally out there in that sun going full speed into that contact and being on the ground. It really zaps you out. … Still, I thought we played good rugby toward the end.”
He hopes that continues today and in the West Region’s final tournament in Kansas City in two weeks. Aspen likely won’t be at full strength, but Katoa said the adversity might prove beneficial in the long run.
“We’ll put some other guys in different positions, real tough situations, and see how they come out,” Katoa added. “It’s a work in progress, but it’s all about peaking at the right time.”
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