Gents struggling to attract players
ASPEN Its been a humbling two weeks for Aspens proud rugby club.Saturday, a week after losing to Steamboat Springs for the first time since 1978, the Gentlemen of Aspens summer side experienced the once-unthinkable: losing to Glenwood Springs Defiance for the first time in 14 years.For a club accustomed to pounding its downvalley rival including 95-0 and 125-5 routs last summer losing 37-20 was demoralizing.Current Gents coach Fred Waititi wasnt in a state of panic Monday, but he admitted that the two losses were low points in the 40-year-old clubs recent history, considering Aspens record of success. At its apex, Aspen was the most dominant rugby club in the country, winning seven national titles between 1997 and 2002 while playing in the Super League and the top division of USA Rugby, then the combined USA Rugby Super League. During that stretch, the club recruited some of the most talented players in the world.In April 2005, however, the Gents surprisingly dropped out of the Super League midseason a split that stemmed from a nasty legal spat the Gents had brought against the league in 2004 regarding the eligibility of a foreign-born player.The Gents subsequently returned to their roots as a summer club a move that allowed the team to fill out a roster with whomever they pleased.Last fall and spring, the club also fielded a side for a Division I schedule which had competition comparable to the Super Leagues but, because matches are organized regionally, offered a much-less-demanding travel schedule.The inaugural Division I season was a moderate success: Aspen advanced to the final 16 in the national playoffs before losing to top-seeded Life University, of Georgia, on May 12 in Columbia, S.C.The team, however, consisted of local players and a number of the best players from visiting Mountain League teams all of whom have returned to their respective teams for the summer schedule.In the transition, Aspens inability to attract the blue-chip players it has in summers past has resulted in a competitive shift in the league one that first started taking shape last season when Vail pounded Aspen in the summer finale to win the league title.Were not that bad, its just that the playing field has leveled out a bit, Waititi said. Right now were struggling for players. Were doing the best we can with what weve got. In the past, Aspen has been a place that rugby players have wanted to come for the summer, but the club is no longer the club it used to be. Weve always had the pick of the bunch, and thats not the case anymore.A lack of affordable housing and a high cost of living has made it increasingly more difficult to attract quality domestic and international players, Waititi said. Other teams in the summer Mountain League have also improved their recruiting.Thats the best Glenwood side Ive ever seen, Waititi said. Theyve got some really talented players, and they beat us fair and square.In recent years, Aspens club has helped find visiting players jobs and housing, but its becoming increasingly more difficult to provide such arrangements.Waititi said the club is still looking for players this summer, but one of the problems is that Aspen is too darn expensive for the college kids to come here for a summer.The few that we had come here, theyve struggled to find accommodations for them, he added. We cant say come along, and then not deliver on promises. Weve got four or five guys sleeping on guys floors, as it is.Waititi remains optimistic, however, that the club can turn its season around. Aspens home Mountain League opener with Vail was scheduled for this Saturday at Wagner Park but is going to be rescheduled for later in the summer at Vails request. Aspen isnt scheduled to play again until July 14, when Defiance travels upvalley for a rematch.It buys us a bit of time, Waititi said. I think its fair to say we dont enjoy losing, and it certainly gives us motivation.Nate Petersons e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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