Junior Gents rugby to host Castle Rock in home playoff game on Saturday
IF YOU GO...
What: Aspen Jr. Gents vs. Castle Rock
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Willits Rugby Field
Why: This is a Round of Eight matchup in the Division II state playoffs
Ernesto Lopez said he simply wanted something new in his life, and so far rugby has filled that void. A junior at Basalt High School who has made a name for himself on the football field and the wrestling mat for the Longhorns, Lopez also has become an important piece for the playoff-bound Aspen Junior Gents this spring.
“I know there is a great brotherhood they made here and I’m so proud of being a part of it,” Lopez said. “Seeing how they play as a team makes me feel happy being a part of it, because they are a good team and they come in and put in the work every day and it shows.”
Saturday, the Jr. Gents will have a rare opportunity when they host Castle Rock in a 2 p.m. playoff game at Willits Field. Despite a history of success — Aspen won the 2013 state championship and played in the 2014 final — the team is never believed to have hosted a playoff game.
“I’m pretty sure the format today is the first time they’ve really gone out of their way to allow the top seeds to host,” Aspen assistant coach Cameron McIntyre said. “In previous years, all playoffs were on the Front Range and that is always trouble to us.”
Aspen, which is led by coach Zach Hendrix, is 5-1 in matches played this season and finished as the second seed in its division, behind only undefeated Fort Collins. Fort Collins beat Aspen, 41-27, in the season opener on March 9, but the Gents haven’t lost since.
En route to the playoffs, Aspen beat Northside (56-0), Ridgeview Academy (21-19), Grand Junction (45-5), Cherry Creek (60-19) and Dakota Ridge (28-0).
“Putting this field on the map would be such a huge thing for us,” Lopez said of hosting a playoff game. “I got lucky to be here on this team. I’m trying to get as much people to come out here and play because it’s a great sport.”
Lopez is one of a few dozen who play for the Jr. Gents, the Roaring Fork Valley’s high school rugby team that is named after the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club. While a few of the players come from Aspen and Basalt, the majority of the players come from the Glenwood Springs area.
They didn’t field a team two years ago because of low numbers, but returned with a solid season last spring. The majority of the players are relatively new, if not brand new, to the sport.
“In the last five years, this is the best team we’ve been able to put out,” McIntyre said. “With the benefit of some of these kids returning from last year, they are a more rounded team. They understand the game better. Obviously half the team, or greater than half the team, is still new this year, but out of that there are a bunch of hard workers.”
Castle Rock went 5-3 this season in its side of Division II, which has two nine-team divisions. The top four teams from each division advanced to the state tournament. The Boulder Valley Lions were the top seed in D2A, followed by the Broomfield-based Tigers Rugby Club. Ridgeview and Cherry Creek finished third and fourth behind Fort Collins and Aspen in D2B.
“I’m excited for us being in the playoffs,” second-year Jr. Gents player Omar Marquez said. “My heart would be blowing up with joy (if we won).”
The long drives to Denver to play competitive club softball and fine-tune her skills during the offseason are paying off for Glenwood Springs High School senior Kiera Larson.