Summit High revives boys rugby program with experienced coach

Tigers team is still looking to add players

Summit High School sophomore Jack Hodge carries the ball during a Summit boys rugby game versus Regis Jesuit at Cook Park in Denver on Saturday, May 8.
Photo by Stefan de Vogel

It was at his Breckenridge Ski Resort ski school locker where Lance French started down a path that would lead him to coach a revived Summit High School boys rugby team.

This past winter, the snowboard instructor was locker mates with John Vincze, father of Summit alum and Harvard rugby freshman-to-be PK Vincze. The connection led to French — a national championship club coach with USA Rugby Men’s Eagles experience — to coach and train Vincze through a winter of COVID-19 where she worked her way up the USA Rugby development program.

John Vincze soon asked French whether he had any interest in coaching a startup boys team, and French jumped on board to coach for the first time since leading the Denver Barbarians men’s club through 2015.

French stepping up to coach a Summit team means there is a boys rugby program for the first time since it went dormant three years ago. And in the new Colorado Interscholastic Rugby Association, Summit boys rugby players, like senior captain flanker and Peak School student Joey Hodge, get a chance to competitively play the sport they love.

Two summers ago, Hodge took to the sport after watching the 2019 Rugby World Cup. But until Summit High started up the program, Hodge’s participation in the sport was limited to a few practice sessions with the Blue Goose, the traditional men’s club based in Breckenridge.

Training began March 24, leading to Summit’s season-opening games versus Regis Jesuit on Saturday, May 8, at Cook Park in Denver. A scrimmage to break the 13 Summit kids into the 10-player rugby 10s action was followed by two 20-minute game sessions, the first Summit won 14-0 before a 19-0 loss in the final game of the day.

“As far as the feeling of playing together, it was unmatched in my experience,” Hodge said. “Rugby, I think, is the best team sport in the world because when you’re out there looking at the other team, you have to rely on your teammates — your buddies — to support you, and they are relying on you to support them.”

Considering his preexisting love for the sport, Hodge was one of the players French had the easiest time recruiting onto the team. French then had to pivot to recruiting other athletes to the pitch, resulting in several soccer and football players joining the team and rounding out a small roster needing a crash-course in rugby education.

Wylam Mocatta pounces on a loose ball during the Summit boys rugby game Saturday, May 8, versus Regis Jesuit at Cook Park in Denver.
Photo by Stefan de Vogel

The team is now practicing three days a week at the Breckenridge Recreation Center where Hodge and senior scrumhalf Phineas Smith said French has helped the kids learn the sport via loud, vocal communication and active attention to details.

“Rugby is a game that you don’t just tell them to do something and they do it,” French said. “It’s a game you have to teach them why you have to do something, or it doesn’t connect.”

• May 19 vs. Regis

• May 22 vs. Monarch

• May 26 vs. Palmer

• June 2 vs. Palmer

In three weeks of training, the team has learned and improved individual and team fundamental skills while trying to retain talent.

Hodge said he and his teammates have done that this year not by approaching athletes in the hallway — like he might in a normal year without COVID-19 — but via text. If they are uncertain whether they want to try the sport, he asks them to just come out for one practice. The strategy has helped attract some guys, but the coach and players would like for the 13 number to creep closer to 30 by next season.

For now, Summit is leaning on Hodge’s physical rucking and leadership and Smith’s kicking while also receiving contributions from the likes of senior soccer goalkeeper Wylam Mocatta, a flanker who supports Hodge. Then there’s junior flyhalf Samuel Daly, who comes from a family from the rugby-loving nation of New Zealand. Despite his inexperience, Daly has stepped up and was the man of the match Saturday for Summit at the flyhalf position.

Lucas Salcedo rises up to receive the ball during the Summit boys rugby game versus Regis Jesuit at Cook Park in Denver on Saturday, May 8.
Photo by Stefan de Vogel

Hodge’s brother Jack, a sophomore center, should be back soon from a concussion. He’ll be another player fresh to the sport to join football converts GC Martinez, a hooker on the rugby pitch, and prop Kevin Lopez, a lineman on the football team.

“Oh my gosh, he picked this up so fast,” French said about Martinez. “Especially the hitting part.”

Join the team

Call or text Summit High School boys rugby coach Lance French at 720-261-7376 to play for the team this season.

The cherry on top for French this past weekend was the play of freshman Lucas Salcedo. The sinewy, 6-foot-3 youngster was hesitant to learn the sport just three weeks ago. On Saturday, he soared over the pile of players beneath him to grab possession from the line out — an iconic, atypical play specific to the sport of rugby.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, which will run through mid-June, Smith said the team is anxious to recruit more players to take to French’s experienced, energetic, disciplined coaching that’s setting the foundation for the program to blossom.

“I think that we have a great group of guys who can take criticism,” Smith said. “It’s all positive and for the betterment of the team. If you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.”


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