Gentlemen affirm ski town supremacy
With the 40-21 victory over Aspen on July 6 still fresh in their minds, the Vail Rugby Club returned to Wagner Park for the 30th annual (or thereabouts) Ski Town Tournament this weekend, confident of a similar result.And after Saturday’s opening round, there was still reason to hope as both Vail and Aspen survived to set the stage for a rematch in Sunday’s final. The Vail ruggers left town, however, not celebrating, not trumpeting another win to the newspaper back home, but instead mumbling in collective exasperation, “Another second-place trophy!”The Gentlemen of Aspen once again extended their supremacy over seven rival ski towns, including Jackson Hole, Breckenridge, Santa Fe, Glenwood Springs, Park City and Steamboat Springs, and captured a 12th straight Ski Town tourney title by beating Vail 33-8.To be certain of the dozen-peat – or, perhaps more importantly, of preventing a repeat of July 6 – Aspen fortified its sideline with two players with international caps, Jason Walker and Isaac Mbereko, the captain and vice captain of Aspen’s 2002 USA Rugby National Championship team. However, the two stars were never called into action as the Gents’ summer league team, a collection of B-side regulars and college-age players injected with a few talents from the A-side, like Rata Going, Dean Walsh and Karl Siteine, held their own against Vail and dictated the result.”They really tried to rub our noses in that loss to the extent where I think we’ve promised ourselves it will not happen again in our lifetimes,” said Richard Dyer, the Aspen summer league coach.”We didn’t even need to bring in any of the guns,” Gents presidents Andrew “Salty” Saltonstall added.Vail scored an early penalty kick off the boot of Marcus Dracup, but a sluggish Aspen team didn’t respond until the 29th minute. And even then, the response was solely Simon Dogbe’s, who slashed 90-plus meters, stripping off at least four Vail tacklers along the way, to score Aspen’s first try of the day. Walsh added the 2-point after-try conversion to lift Aspen to a 7-3 lead.Dogbe’s dramatic run ignited the Gents’ machine – Aspen scored two more tries before halftime, featuring the best team play of the day – while effectively sinking Vail’s already doubting spirits.”I knew we’d wake them up at some point,” acknowledged Vail’s player/coach Fred Waititi.Aspen prop Siteine scored tries in the 33rd and 38th minutes, which, along with Walsh’s boot, gave Aspen a 21-3 lead at the half, virtually cementing the Aspen win. The first try was launched by Tyson Meek, who pressed into the Vail zone before making the first of a few passes that finally found Siteine, who then punctuated the score with a diving belly-flop in the north try zone.Walsh sparked Aspen’s third try, baffling would-be Vail tacklers as he pushed toward the try zone before dishing to hooker and tourney MVP Chris Comstock, who in turn fed Siteine with a dandy pass for an uncontested try.Vail scored its only try on a Greg Tarpy run five minutes into the second half, but Aspen answered two minutes later with a Walsh try, 26-8. Aspen rookie Nick Harris, one of the college players on the roster this summer, added the final points with a try in the final minute to cap off a 30-meter Comstock ramble into the zone.”When you’ve got legends around watching from the sidelines, you want to perform well,” said Comstock. “These are guys that we’ve been watching all year and we want to perform up to their standards. That was the biggest letdown the last time against Vail; I don’t feel we played up to our standard. But today, we bumped up the intensity, we played at that certain level and we did what we’re used to doing – winning.”For players like Siteine, one of several Gents who was playing in a sevens qualifying tournament in Oklahoma City when Aspen lost to Vail on July 6 (and who will be competing with the Gents in the U.S. Rugby Sevens National Championship Aug. 10-11 in Pennsylvania), it was rewarding to be able to lend a hand in restoring the rightful order of things between Aspen and Vail.”Our main objective in the summer league is to get the young guys out and to get them more experience,” he said. “We’re all here to help. If it goes well out there, where the young guys are taking care of business, we’ll just leave them out there. If they need a little help, we’ll give it to them, and that’s what summer rugby is all about … well, and to beat Vail – especially since what they put in the papers last time. We had to shut them up somehow.”
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The Aspen High School girls soccer team looks a lot different from the last time it played, with many new players and a new coaching staff. But winning has become part of the culture, and it’s so far, so good for the Skiers this spring.