Gents eye berth in 7’s national championship tourney
ASPEN ” Gentlemen of Aspen coach Fred Waititi hasn’t decided whether he’ll fly to Kansas City, Mo., this weekend to coach the Gents’ 7’s team or whether he’ll stick around to lead the summer squad against visiting Glenwood Springs at Wagner Park.
This much is certain: Aspen’s rugby club is on a roll.
First there was the convincing July 4 win for the 15-man summer side against Vail at home, and now this: a championship win for the 7’s team at Saturday’s Sneath Cup in Denver.
With a break in the summer league schedule, Waititi and nine players traveled to Denver for the 10-team tournament which served as a regional qualifier for the 7’s national championship tournament in San Francisco.
Despite having fewer players than the other nine clubs at the tournament, Aspen went a perfect 6-0 to claim the championship trophy. The run included two victories ” one in pool play, the other in the championship game ” over the Denver Barbarians, one of Aspen’s long-standing rivals.
“Denver is consistently in the top three in the country for 7’s,” Waititi said. “Given that it was our first 7’s tournament of the summer, the guys were pretty pleased. Our first game, we were a bit slow, but we progressed with each game. By the time we played the Barbos in the fourth game, we had a really good looking 7’s side.”
Make that a really good looking rugby club, considering the 7’s game is substantially different than the traditional 15-man game that Aspen plays in the summer Mountain League.
Played on the same-size field, 7’s matches feature quick 7-minute halves and favor speed and quick-strike offenses. Conditioning is also a big factor, considering the frenetic pace of the matches.
“There’s more room to run and more room to have to cover,” Waititi said. “It’s non-stop sprinting, more or less.”
For the Sneath Cup, Waititi put together a side which included a number of Gents veterans ” Simon Dogbe and Merritt Johnson, among them ” and some new faces, such as Spencer Scott.
The team only got better with each match among a field that included five teams from Texas, one from New Mexico, three from Colorado and one from Kansas.
After three opening wins in its pool, Aspen ran away with a 24-5 victory over the Barbos in its fourth game to earn the top seed entering crossover play.
In its semifinal, Aspen rolled past the Alliance Rugby Club from northern Texas to earn a rematch against the Barbarians.
The championship match was closer than the previous meeting, with Aspen twice overcoming deficits to claim a 31-21 win.
“The Barbos played the whole day with a full squad, and we didn’t have as many guys,” Waititi said. “Plus the final has 10-minute halves. Our guys weren’t getting as much rest. It was hot, and they were pretty tired.”
But never beaten.
Next up for the Gents’ 7’s is Saturday’s tournament in Kansas City, where Aspen will look to lock up one of three berths out of the West region to the national championship tournament in San Francisco. The two-day tournament begins Aug. 9.
Aspen will also look to continue its current win streak in the Summer League, where it sits in a three-way tie with Steamboat Springs and Vail at 3-1.
Saturday’s match at Wagner Park begins at 1 p.m.
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Trailing to Aspen early in Sunday’s championship, the American Raptors came back to lead 24-15 at halftime and held a two score lead well into the second half before the Gents took over the match. This was the Gents’ 22nd championship at Ruggerfest, a tournament that dates to 1968.