New Summit boy’s rugby team itching for a win halfway through inaugural season
Special to the Daily
2016 Summit Rugby boy’s schedule
The weather has been less than kind to the new Summit rugby team. Thanks to snow and highway closures, the boys played just three of seven regular season games between March 5 and April 9. The Aspen match from March 26 is being rescheduled. Here’s hoping Mother Nature lets the team finish its final two matches — at least.
April 23 — Littleton Harlequins at Kingdom Park, Breckenridge 2 p.m.
April 30 — Pikes Peak Falcons in Colorado Springs, 2 p.m.
April or May — Aspen at Willits Rugby Field in Aspen (postponed on March 26)
The hardest part of any journey is taking the first step.
For the Summit Rugby boy’s high school team, a club team like the girl’s squad, that step is a distant memory. Three games in — and still winless — the boys now stand miles away from where they started their inaugural season in February.
After being blown out in its first two contests, Summit came inches away from notching their first win in an April 2 game at home against Monte Vista, another relatively new team. The Tigers took a comfortable 16-3 lead into the second half, with all of their points coming from sophomore co-captain Conor Craig. The Tigers looked like they were en route to their first-ever win, but, unfortunately, inexperience showed its face, and Monte Vista posted a valiant comeback, edging past Summit 17-16 for the win.
After being blown out in their first two games, one could argue that such a close loss might still be considered a moral victory. Summit knows the journey will be uphill, but the team still won’t settle for such talk.
“We could’ve won, we didn’t finish,” sophomore Adolpho Vasquez said. “It’s just one (of) those things we as a team need to learn.”
His teammates all agree.
“You could see it in everybody’s eyes after the game,” junior Azeem Foy said. “We wanted that win and (are) definitely going to progress from there.”
New team, new game
The Tigers’ Achilles’ heel is simple: a lack of experience. Unfortunately, for as much heart as the team might have, this won’t be fixed overnight. The tide will only start to turn through consistent progress and dedication.
“We might know what the game is about, but there’s a lot of things — it’s like the small things — that we really need to work on,” Vasquez said.
In the beginning of the season, Summit struggled with learning the game and finding players who would consistently show up for practice. Although the players are by no means masters of the sport, the team now has a stronger understanding of rugby and a dedicated crew that has bought into the program.
“They improved so much from where we expected them to be,” assistant coach Noah Bauter said. “They elected themselves to practice more, and, since the start, our numbers have exploded.”
Size doesn’t always matter
The average size of a Summit starter doesn’t do the team any favors either. Summit doesn’t boast a single player over 200 pounds, while most of their opponents don’t have a single player below 200 pounds.
Because of Summit’s physical stature, rugby tactics like spacing, form and speed will be keys to the team’s success. If used correctly, small size in rugby can be a dangerous weapon to weasel past — and take down — bigger defenders.
“If you tackle right, anyone can bring anyone down,” sophomore Sebastian Barlow said. Vasquez confidently added that it “doesn’t matter what size we are. We just have to find ways to make ourselves be dominant. … Pretty sure there’s other teams that use space and speed.”
One of those teams is the Summit Rugby girl’s team. Despite being one of the smallest teams in Colorado, the Tigers rode the spacing philosophy to their eighth straight state title this past fall. And, even though they may not admit it, the boys’ near-victory, as well as their dedicated attitude, is proof that their development is headed in the right direction.
“We might not be the biggest, but we don’t give up,” Vasquez said. “That’s kind of what drives me to be here.”
That, and a newfound love for the game.
“Definitely getting beat up, but definitely love it, too,” Foy said. “Definitely go to bed dreaming about it. I love this sport.”
The season starts to blossom
When the snow melted enough this past month to move practice outdoors, the team noticed a drastic increase in their progression.
“When we were in the gym, we didn’t have that much room, but now, since we’re outside, we finally understand what playing on a field really feels like,” Vasquez said. “We didn’t get all the benefits of knowing how much room we have.”
The veteran coaching staff has also noticed a difference. Along with Bauter, all four coaches are former players with experience on the pitch in England, New Zealand and across the globe.
“Our line-outs are coming together, and we’re doing better maintaining possession of the ball,” Bauter said.
Four days after the Monte Vista loss, the Tigers practice on a brisk spring evening at Kingdom Park in Breckenridge. Dressing in shorts on a mostly snow-covered field seems like it would be a painful contradiction, but all the players seem jovial.
“Every phase has got to be hit, hit, hit!” yelled a coach.
The difficult loss was an afterthought, as the Tigers let out a whoop and holler with every dive to the ground.
“Go, go, go!” screamed Vasquez as one his teammates picked the ball out of a scrum.
Amid the fading sunrays and quickly dropping temperatures, the team practiced a variety of different scrum maneuvers. Ever resilient, no one seemed to mind the cold or performing countless dives onto the frosty ground.
“I’d say our greatest strength is our attitude — we’re tough, and we never give up,” head coach Peter Clarke said. “They are now on their journey and are moving forward.”
Watching the boys practice was as much a pleasure as it must have been to play, and the Tigers showed visual progress at transitioning from a scrum to a fast break over the course of the practice. Their technique might not be honed, and they still don’t know many of the game’s small intricacies, but they are getting better with every practice and their desire to play has not wavered despite adversity. With a handful of games still remaining, the progress they’ve made this inaugural season will speak much louder than the tally on the scoreboard or the team’s overall record.
“We’re watching them just grow up and find themselves,” Bauter said proudly. “We wouldn’t have seen that earlier in the season.”
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