Gents crush Vail; Kistner living out rugby dream before college football career
Don’t ask James Kistner what his role is for the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club, because he doesn’t know. Learning a new sport means learning a new language, and the vocabulary has been a struggle to acquire for the 2017 Aspen High School graduate.
“I thought it was going to be similar to football and I thought the skills would translate, which they have a little bit, but it’s a totally new game,” Kistner said. “I’m still learning. I’m learning what my role is. I’m very good at jumping, that’s what I know.”
Kistner was a standout multi-sport athlete for the Skiers, focusing on football, basketball and lacrosse. In three weeks, he’ll leave for Los Angeles and Chapman University, where he will play NCAA Division III football for the Panthers.
With AHS lacrosse and the Junior Gents rugby program both holding their seasons in the spring, Kistner never really had a chance to play rugby until now. His only experience with the sport prior was in New Zealand as an exchange student.
“It’s a big jump for him in terms of the physicality. He’s playing against men now and there is a little less padding,” Gents coach Will Herborn said of Kistner. “James has been outstanding. His pick up of the game has been crazy fast. It’s been great.”
Kistner has seen plenty of playing time for the Gents over the past few weeks, including in Saturday’s 86-26 romp of rival Vail at Wagner Rugby Stadium in downtown Aspen. Sure, he’s still running around a bit clueless in terms of Xs and Os, but his size and natural athleticism allows him to hold his own on the pitch.
Saturday’s match wasn’t much of a match, at least in the second half. Vail hung with the Gents for a bit, but couldn’t hang on as the more athletic Aspen side took control.
“We just switched it on and actually decided to play the game,” Herborn said of the second half. “The guys are clicking. They intuitively know where each other is on the field now. It’s really handy, because it makes everyone’s job a lot easier.”
The Gents are closing in on the finish of their summer season. They have made easy work of their mountain town rivals, and will get a chance to finish the deal when they head to Steamboat Springs next weekend for the Ski Town Rugby Tournament, which exclusively features sides from “ski towns.”
Aspen then hosts the Misfits on Aug. 5 at Wagner before wrapping up summer play Aug. 12 at Grand Junction.
Kistner, who will play outside linebacker for Chapman, hopes to return to Aspen each summer and continue playing for the Gents. He might even join some California clubs, as he sees rugby as a viable athletic option after his football career is over.
“I’m super excited and super grateful that we have a really good team like this out here,” Kistner said of the Gents. “It’s been pretty fun. I have the chance to play rugby now that I’m old enough. I’m loving it. It’s definitely been a dream.”
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