With minds on Culley, Gents cruise | AspenTimes.com

With minds on Culley, Gents cruise

Gents player, Mark Williams, center, tackles an opponent during Saturday's, May 8, 2004, match against OMBAC at Rio Grande Park. Aspen Times photo/ Nick Saucier.

The Gentleman of Aspen Rugby club locked up first place in the USA Rugby Super League with a convincing 56-23 victory over the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club of San Diego Saturday.

The win comes as the team struggles to cope with the catastrophic spinal injury of teammate Pat Culley, 25, who was paralyzed from the chest down during a match last Saturday in Boston.

“Our first practice back was very difficult for everyone,” coach Mick Melrose said after the win. “But by Thursday we were getting our focus, and I think we started very strong today.”

He said he didn’t change how the team prepares, emphasizing instead the focus and determination that has led to six championships in the last seven years and an undefeated regular season this year.

Behind three powerful runs by Aspen star Tasi Mounga, the Gents steamrolled over San Diego in the opening 20 minutes, pulling out to a 31-6 lead. Mounga has dominated this year, ending the regular season atop the Super League try scorers’ list with a new club record of 10 tries.

After Mounga’s opening stint, the team relaxed a touch, allowing a San Diego try five minutes before halftime.

The opening spurt was enough to ensure victory, but Melrose said the Gents have much to work on before their first playoff match in two weeks.

“We got a little sloppy as the match went on. We didn’t complete our phases, lost the ball a bit. It’s good, though: We know what we have to work on,” Melrose said.

After the match, all thoughts turned to Culley. Last week after the accident, he developed pneumonia and an E. Coli infection due to a depressed immune system.

Melrose said his condition was improving, and his family was working on relocating him to a spinal rehabilitation center in Denver.

Melrose also said he remains in close contact with Culley’s family, providing updates for the team as they become available.

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to win it all,” Melrose said.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com

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