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Gents put on holiday fireworks display

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Luke Prosence of the Gentlemen of Aspen prepares for a throw-in during Saturday's holiday rivalry game against the Denver Barbarians at Wagner Rugby Stadium. Prosence, a product of the Junior Gents program, is in his first full season with the senior Gentlemen of Aspen.
Dale Strode/The Aspen Times |

The Gentlemen of Aspen saved their fireworks for the Fifth of July.

The Aspen rugby club, in a traditional holiday showdown, blasted past the Denver Barbarians 48-24 on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Wagner Rugby Stadium in downtown Aspen.

With a unique blend of veteran rugby players and youngsters from the Junior Gents program, the Gentlemen relied on solid defense and an explosive offense — particularly when the fatigue of the second half hit.

“We’ve been practicing with the Junior Gents … the high school guys with (coach) Freddie (Waititi) leading the way,” Gentlemen of Aspen captain James Aldridge said after Saturday’s big win. “First, he started it on a small scale. Then it moved to a big scale, and the cohesiveness stuck. There was a lot of continuity as a result.”

The combination of rookie and veteran was evident on Aspen’s first possession after the 1 p.m. kickoff.

Gents rookie Kaden Sorenson scored the first try for the Gents when he scrambled over the try line near the left sideline. He was one of eight different former Junior Gents who played Saturday in the rivalry game against the Barbos.

The tough-angle conversion was wide, and Aspen led 5-0 early.

Barbarians lead

The Barbarians, who have won the last six consecutive Ruggerfest titles in Aspen, answered quickly Saturday, taking a 7-5 lead on a try and a two-point conversion.

But the lead would vanish when Aspen’s Wesley LaBorte broke free with the ball and ran 35 yards for a try. With the conversion, Aspen’s advantage grew to 12-7.

LaBorte, an LSU rugby player spending the summer in Aspen, would add another long run for a try after scooping up a loose ball at midfield.

Robert Hiles, another of the former Junior Gents, added a couple of first-half conversion kicks for Aspen.

The Barbos managed a late try, and the Gents led 26-12 at the half.

The Barbarians lit their fireworks to open the second half with their forwards powering the team to back-to-back tries (and one conversion) to reduce the Gents’ lead to a tense 26-24 as the holiday weekend crowd continued to gather on the sidelines of Wagner Park.

Notre Dame memories

Aldridge immediately ended the threat by the Barbarians when he bounced out of the Aspen forward pack, collected the ball off the turf and turned down the right sideline next to the kiddie playground.

With a devastating stiff arm that sent a Barbo to the turf and revived memories of Aldridge’s days as a Notre Dame running back, he exploded down the line for a momentum-stealing try as even the kiddies cheered.

“I did a bunch of dirty work today (in the forward pack), so I just wanted to get the ball past the try line at least once,” Aldridge said after moving to a forward position Saturday from his usual spot along the back line.

“Hey, I appreciate it. Playing up front, it’s like being a lineman, really,” he said, adding that the veteran players are enthusiastically welcoming the younger players.

“Four years ago, hey, I was doing the same thing (learning rugby),” Aldridge said.

“We welcome this whole thing with open arms,” he said with a gesture to Gents rookie Luke Prosence, who made his first big-game start at the hooker position.

“There are some big boys out there. They push hard in the scrum,” said Prosence, a 17-year-old who will be a senior at Glenwood Springs High School in the fall. “It’s definitely fun, though.”

A former Junior Gents standout, Prosence is the son of Connie and Matt Prosence. He said the senior-level game is quicker, ”and the ball moves faster.”’

But that’s just fine with Prosence, who likes it fast — he’s an alpine ski racer with the Aspen Valley Ski Club.

“The kid did really well,” said his counterpart with the Barbarians, rugby veteran Mike “Whitey” Nelson. “He held tight in the scrums. He made a good strike on the ball. Defensively, he was very sound.”

Whitey is in his 26th year of big boy-adult rugby; Prosence is in his first.

Ski-racing hooker

“He’s a very disciplined kid,” said Whitey, a former U.S. Eagle who has played with the Barbarians since 2002. He formerly played for Belmont Shore and at Arizona State University.

“It is inspiring to play against a kid like that,” Whitey said.

“We let him know … we respect what he’s doing. He had a smile on his face,” the Barbos veteran said. “Anytime you see someone with a smile on his face after playing a game where we get beat up and don’t get paid, there’s nothing better.”

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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