Misfits win another Ruggerfest title as Hatem is remembered, celebrated
52nd annual Aspen Ruggerfest champions
Men’s Open: Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits
Women’s Open: Sister Wives
Masters: Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits
Old Boys 45s: Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits
Old Boys 50s: Cardinals
Old Boys 55s: Cardinals
The Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits went home without any trophies despite returning to the top of the Ruggerfest hierarchy Sunday.
The rugby side won its third Ruggerfest title in four years after beating tournament newcomer North American Academy in the finale, 30-26, at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen, and decided to give away its hardware to the family of Jerome “Jerry” Hatem.
Hatem, the former Aspen Rugby Club president who died in a snowmobiling accident in June, was remembered and celebrated in many ways over the weekend, from a new scholarship in his name to support the Junior Gents to a quick and poignant tribute prior to Sunday’s championship.
The championship game between the Misfits and NA Rugby was a showcase of everything the tournament has to offer.
“This is like you are doing it for your friends,” said Misfit player Eric Duechle, who handed the championship trophy to Jerry’s brother, Tom Hatem, during the awards ceremony. “You are doing it for your brothers, for this amazing Aspen community. It’s like pride.”
Duechle, who plays professionally for the two-time reigning champion Seattle Seawolves of Major League Rugby, was named most valuable player of the tournament. It was his second Ruggerfest appearance, having also played with the Misfits in 2018 when they lost to the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club in the final.
The Misfits’ 2019 final opponent was a group of elite, up-and-coming rugby athletes from North America who are part of a three-month-long academy based out of Denver’s Infinity Park, home of MLR’s Glendale Raptors. The academy players were a mostly under-23 group who beat the Misfits 22-7 in pool play on Saturday.
“We knew this time we had to play a little more possession and control at the point of collision, because they are very young and very, very good on that point of contact,” Misfits coach Andrew Suniula said of the rematch. “This time we narrowed it down to 23 so we kind of knew who we wanted to play where and got our organization. Once we got our organization down we were able to play the way we wanted to play.”
The Misfits played a lot of subs in the pool play match but tightened up their roster for the final. Prior to getting to Sunday’s championship, they beat the Aspen Gents, 29-22, in Saturday’s semifinal game. Aspen had faced the Misfits in the Ruggerfest final the past four years, winning in both 2015 and 2018. The Misfits won in 2016 and 2017.
The Misfits trailed early against the academy players in Sunday’s final, but a late try gave them a 15-14 halftime lead. The Misfits controlled most of the second half and led 30-14 before a late rally by the academy came up short.
“We had a lot of energy to come back out here and win it again,” Duechle said. “I could tell our experience, our age, really helped us out.”
The Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits also won the master’s division and the 45s division, giving both of their championship plaques to the Hatem family as well. The Virginia Cardinals won the 50s and 55s divisions, while the Salt Lake City Sister Wives repeated as the women’s open champion.
The Aspen Gents finished fourth in the men’s open division after losing 50-7 to Glendale in Sunday’s third-place game.
“It’s a celebration for everyone,” Suniula said of winning Ruggerfest. “It’s great for the sponsors and it’s great for the Misfits family and rugby overall. It’s more so a celebration of our game here in one of the most beautiful places to play in the world.”
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