Gents focus national ambitionson 7’s game
It was playing the standard 15-man version of the game that the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club built a national reputation.Over a six-year span from 1997-2002, the Gents collected national titles at a rate of more than one a year. (A mathematical immprobability, yes – until the two top leagues claiming the national championship game agreed to merge.)Now, since the Gents withdrew from the USA Rugby Super League in the spring, the team has focused its national-level ambitions on the 7-man brand of the game, known as 7’s.At the 12-team Western Region 7’s Finals in Oklahoma City on Saturday, the Gents used veteran savvy and rookie fire-power to earn a qualifying spot at the upcoming national championship tourney. It marks Aspen’s fourth-straight trip to 7’s nationals.Aspen beat the likes of Dallas Elite (twice), Tulsa, Oklahoma State Alumni and some other Texas team. But Aspen stumbled in the finals against the Denver Barbarians, losing 35-14.The Gents and the Barbos both advance to the U.S. 7’s National Championships, a 16-team tourney slated for Aug. 13-14 in Pittsburgh. Teams from San Diego to New York will be in attendance.Aspen’s best finish at 7’s nationals was last year – making the semifinals in Park City, Utah.But for the first time this year, Aspen enters the final table with a full and deep bench, according to Andy Katoa, Aspen’s 7’s coach. Aspen’s lineup features a crop of college players from the University of Oklahoma (four) and Southern Utah University (three), and one from the Boston area.”We’re surrounding very experienced players like Isaac Mbereko, David Yavala and Freddy Waititi with youth and speed. That’s the idea,” Kotoa said. “And these young kids” – all in their early 20s – “work really hard.””In 7’s, you really have to be in condition. So, in training, we run. All out, with miminal rest in between for water breaks.”Roger Gassett, Jack Meek, Spencer Scott and Tom Johnson make up the Norman, Okla., crew; the Utah imports are Mark Felipe, Mike Palefau and Sitiveni Tuivai; and Ian Flanagan is the Bostonian.Tuivai also plays with the U.S. National Team. “Right now, he is the future of USA rugby,” said Kotoa.”These Utah kids are just fliers, and the Oklahoma kids are just tough. Tough.”The 7’s team has been training and traveling to tournaments since early May. To date, they’ve been to Shreveport, La.; Austin, Tex.; Houston; St. Louis; Denver and, most recently, Oklahoma City.The next and final stop is Pittsburgh.Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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