Friday, June 19, 2015

2015 Rocky Mountain All Star Challenge on the Upcomer

Under-19s, Under-17 Tourney at Aurora Sports Park

Rugby shifts from last week’s USA Rugby National Clubsides at Infinity in central Denver to the adjacent municipality of Aurora for Rocky Mountain Challenge 15s. The competition features 22 elite regional select sides in three divisions: 10, U-19, All Star boys sides designated as “Varsity”, that will play a bracketed format; 5, elite U-19 girls squads that will contest in round-robin style; and 7, U-17 boys sides, called “Junior Varsity”, who’ll play round-robin also.  The show, which will be the finest age-grade rugby on offer between the West Coast and the Mississippi River, is a proving ground for future national side players. USA Rugby personnel will be onhand in significant numbers to observe and evaluate individual performances as well as how individuals perform in group settings.

The Challenge kicks off at 8am Saturday in the Aurora Sports Park, located just east of Tower Road and Colfax Avenue on the south side of the street, with the first matches kicking at 9am.
  • U-19 Boys: Utah will be there to maintain last year’s championship, but they’ll need to get by rugby representatives from the states of Wisconsin, Louisiana, Minnesota, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and the very Heart of America (Kansas, Missouri), as well as Rugby Colorado;.
  • U-19 Girls: Two sides from the Beehive State, Utah and Orem, will vie for 2015’s trophy as will Rugby Colorado, and the finest emerging talent from Minnesota and Missouri;
  • U-17 Boys: Rugby Colorado heads a star-studded competition of XVs that includes: Texas, Wisconsin, Utah, Heart of America, Minnesota and a club called simply “Team 5785”, that hails from the southern reaches of our great state

The U-19 Rugby Colorado side is coordinated, instructed and managed by as impressive a group as you’re likely to see anywhere, at any time and they are fronted by: Paul Emerick (53 USA Eagles caps, Paul played professionally for London Wasps, and he’s a current Rocky Mountain Rugby Referee); Zach Fenoglio (9 USA Eagles caps and captain of Glendale Raptors, 2015 Pacific Rugby Premiership Champions… also Zach is an alumni and head coach of Regis Jesuit - #2 in State); and James Paterson (captained the only Rugby Colorado side to win the tournament, 12 USA Eagles caps... James played Super 15 Rugby professionally for Highlanders and he coaches Colorado Springs Grizzlies). Yet premium instruction does not necessarily a successful enterprise beget.

As ever, Coach Paterson is earnestly direct: “(Coaching) the Colorado side this year has been one of the most frustrating select side teams experiences for me to date.  There were massive conflicts with football camps and 7s rugby, which restricted the number of players participating dramatically.”

Clash of Codes
James feels that the existing hodgepodge formatting of the 15s and 7s codes’ pathways to the top leaves a bit to be desired: “The sevens conflict was the most frustrating for us as we are all huge proponents of the (code) and with the success we are experiencing (both USA men and women rugby 7s squads have qualified for the Olympic Games next year in Brazil), it provides a great pathway. However, currently in the USA we don’t have the luxury to specialize in just one variation at a young age. I feel like the two should either be at separate times of the season, or coordinated with the success of both codes in mind, so players can have the ability to participate in both. At this critical age of development, kids need to be playing as much rugby as possible, regardless of whether it’s sevens, or fifteens.

“The ultimate goal of former (and current) Eagles like Zack, Paul and myself is not to further our coaching CV’s. (Rather) it is to be able to be in an environment where the best players in the state are, to assist those players in refining their skills to have the opportunity to make it to the next level, and to aid their growth as players. This needs to be the breeding ground for future Eagles and collegiate rugby players. We all enjoy the ability to be positive role models for the kids and give them an idea of the expectations that comes along with wearing an Eagles jersey, from the requisite skills and also on a personal level.”

He continues: “I applaud all the players we have on the Colorado side who have come consistently (to trainings) this select season and I hope that they have all been able to take away some positive learning to take back and grow on as players. We have some excellent athletes and rugby players in the side who have the ability to kick on, if they continue to work diligently on their game.” Coach Paterson is quick to recognize the additional members of the Rugby Colorado All Star coaching cohort: “Otis McGregor, Jim (Donovan), Scott (Bredehoeft of Aurora Saracens), Paul (Hoskins of Denver East), Matt (Kaup of Aurora Saracens), and University of Arizona Wildcat, Camden McGregor) who take the time and are so passionate about growing the game in Colorado. They have all done a great job in coaching and mentoring players, but from an organizational perspective to even have enough players to field a JV team and a Varsity team is a great achievement alone.”

And Paterson concludes comprehensively, as is his wont, and speaks to the energy and action that All Star play empowers: “We all look forward to the tournament this weekend and it should be a great occasion for the players. The biggest learning this year is pride in wearing the (representative) jersey. There needs to be pride and allure to wearing the Colorado jersey. For those selected, it is to a great achievement and something to be proud of. It also gives a brief taster of the competition involved in attaining the ultimate level of achievement and pride, (that of) wearing a USA Eagles jersey someday.”

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