Ruggerfest picks up pace Saturday with open divisions; Gents go for repeat
A year ago, Ben Mitchell was a player for the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Football Club when it won Ruggerfest. This weekend, he’ll be the side’s head coach as it looks to defend its championship.
“It’s actually a bit of a relief. It’s a pretty taxing weekend on the body, usually. It’s going to be different, but it will be nice leading the boys for the weekend,” Mitchell said prior to Friday’s practice at Rio Grande Park. “One thing I really wanted to do this year was try and bring back as many guys as possible that have played the last two or three years.”
The men’s open division gets underway Saturday morning, with the Gents scheduled to play the Glendale Merlins at 9:50 a.m. at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. It will be the first of three pool play games the hometown team gets, with the semifinals slated for Saturday evening.
The final for each of the six divisions are all held Sunday.
“We are pumped,” said first-year Aspen player Jeff Barnhill. “We’ve got a good crew compiled. Everyone is really excited. This is always a big event for the city and it’s just really good to be out here with all of the boys.”
The Gents have a squad of about 35 players this fall, with about a dozen of them having also played for Aspen during the summer season. A large majority of the team has played in Ruggerfest before, including on last year’s championship team.
“Everyone is really hungry to defend the title, and of course it’s always good when the Gents get it,” Barnhill said. “So everyone is really excited.”
Aspen has competed in the Ruggerfest final the past four years, having played the Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits each time. Aspen won in 2015, which had been its first title since 2009 and first finals appearance since losing in the 2010 final. The Misfits then won both Ruggerfest titles in 2016 and 2017 before Aspen’s dramatic rally for the 2018 championship.
“We’ve got some good strength and depth, so we are feeling pretty confident,” said third-year Gent Gethin Davies. “But you never know what is going to turn up in festival rugby. Anything could happen.”
The men’s open division is comprised of two pools with four teams each playing a round-robin tournament. The top two teams from each pool will make up the semifinal, with the winners competing in the final.
Competing alongside Aspen and Glendale in Pool A are the Utah Misfits and Rio Grande Cabelleros. Pool B includes the Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits, Denver Barbarians, Boulder Rugby and NA Rugby.
“There is a little bit of pressure,” Mitchell said of defending the championship. “The expectation is on us to win the tournament. But I think a little bit of pressure helps. Guys try a little bit harder to make sure we live up to the expectations.”
Sunday’s final is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. at Wagner Park. Also Saturday will be the four team women’s open division, which includes the Sister Wives, Boulder, Kougars & Kittens, and Vail. The women’s final is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
For the most up-to-date schedule and scores, click here.
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Those opting for the spring, like Aspen and Basalt, will begin football practice Feb. 25 and start playing games March 11.