On an unusually mild day for the first of November, the Summit High rugby team stretched under the waning sun, preparing for a low-key practice leading up to Saturday's state championship game at Glendale's Infinity Park.
For the seniors, Thursday was the last practice of their high school rugby career. Saturday will be their final game - though most plan to continue playing at the club level in college. The game at Infinity Park will be a chance for this year's seniors to lead the team to its fifth year of undefeated in-state play and a five-peat of the state championship title.
To handle Castle Rock, which is a physical team, the Tigers have been practicing full-speed hits that prepare them mentally to maintain the game at their own pace and own method.
Everyone is healthy on the Summit side, including Kellie Cochran who had an ankle scare and Katy Peoples, who has been out for several games with a shoulder injury. With both injuries wrapped and taped, all starters should see playing time Saturday.
"We have more to lose than they do," senior Hailey Wyatt said, adding that the Tigers are expected to win. Should Castle Rock win, it would be an enormous upset.
"We're a strong team, so I don't think we have any fear," said senior Nicole Chandler, to which senior Vollya Sergeeva added, "There's always room for error."
Peoples said some Castle Rock players will help the team that's been shut out twice by the Tigers gain some momentum on Colorado's reining champs. But in the end, this year's rugby team is just that - a team - and they intend to play like one on Saturday.
"We're all really good," Peoples said, "We'll work against them as a team."
For Wyatt and Chandler, this year's state appearance is their first and last.
"I'll savor every bit of it," said Wyatt, who joined the team this year and is sad to see the season end.
For Peoples and Sergeeva, it will be their fifth state appearance.
"It's surreal to know it's coming to an end," Peoples said. Sergeeva added that it hasn't hit home yet.
"After five years, you need the team more than the team needs you," Sergeeva said.
"This program has done so much for so many of us," Peoples added.
For Wyatt, it's been a blessing to be part of a team, not to mention one like the rugby team. A former gymnast and cheerleader, she's happy to make the team more important than her own accomplishments.
"This is about everyone else except yourself," she said. "It's about the team and the program and the cubs. That's why it's easy to give everything on the field."
On Thursday, before running drills, the team sat down to outline their pre-game strategy at Infinity Park. During warm-up, awards are given, so head coach Karl Barth wanted them to feel like they're adequately prepared, given all the interruptions.
Then, he discussed the difference of playing at Tiger Stadium and playing in a professional-scale arena. Last year, Haley "Peach" Anderson shanked a kick she'd normally make because a Jumbotron cameraman came onto the field and distracted her.
Barth is confident in his team, though.
"They'll kick off, we'll score," he said, repeating the scenario several times to summarize what he expects from his team. This week, he helped the team practice a new back row move as well as hone one they haven't used this season. On Monday, they analyzed the most recent game against SWARM, in which the team gave themselves a "F" in communication - something they hope to make better this week.
"Even though the defense is playing well, there are things we don't like about it," Barth added as he listed the things the Tigers focused on this week leading up to the championship game.
"The end is always bittersweet," Barth said. "It's over and we feel like we're just getting started."