Gents build case for 7s national title
Aspen Times Staff Writer
For Aspen, the rugby season hardly ever ends.
The week after the Gentlemen of Aspen lost in the semifinals of the Super League national championships in Newport, R.I., in early June, a handful of the Gents were back on a plane headed for a tournament in Louisiana.
In the ensuing weeks, the Gents 7s team has traveled to four other tourneys ” in Oklahoma, Boulder, College Station, Texas, and most recently Burbank, Calif.
That’s five tournaments and, more importantly, five victories.
The combined results have earned the Gents the No. 1 seed from the West, and No. 3 seed overall, for the USA Rugby 7s National Championships, slated for Aug. 14-15 in Park City, Utah.
On Saturday in California, the Gents won their latest tournament, though the team made the trip more out of curiosity rather than necessity.
“The first four tournaments were qualifiers for us,” said Gents player Isaac Mbereko. “This last one, well, we were just trying to see what the level is on the West Coast.”
In the finals, the sixth match of the day for both clubs, Aspen beat the Huntington Beach Unicorns. Mbereko, however, couldn’t remember any scores from the games.
“If we’re winning, I’m happy,” he laughed. “I don’t really care what the end result is.”
Aspen, a perennial national power in the traditional 15-man game of rugby, has been bounced from the 7s national tournament in the quarterfinals the last two years. This season is shaping up differently.
“The team’s playing very well and we’re just hoping to get better,” said Mbereko. “We’re working hard to see how far we can take it.”
The national tournament features a 16-team field, with qualifiers from around the country. The 7s style of rugby features the same rules as the regular game, but instead of 15 players a side, each team has seven players. And instead of 40 minute halfs, games are just 14 minutes ” seven per half.
And this weekend, while the Gents summer-league team hosts Breckenridge (kickoff time and site TBA), Mbereko said the 7s team will be training.
“We’re not taking the weekend off. We don’t get to play, but you still really need to be working toward the tournament. So that’s what we’ll be doing,” he said.
The team’s roster has varied, due to injury and conflicts, but regular players include David Yavala, Justin Stencil, Freddy Waititi, Matty Blouin, Simon Dogbe, Paul Gibson and Brad Miller.
The roster for the national tourney is limited to just 10 players.
“We’re hoping the altitude will help, but we’ll see,” said Mbereko.
Not that the 7s national tourney means the end of rugby for Aspen, of course.
“After 7s is over, we’ll be building up to Ruggerfest,” he said of the Sept. 16-19 Aspen (15-man) tourney.
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