Rugby: Colorado teams hold their own at 12th Rocky Mountain Rugby Challenge

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Regis Jesuit High School graduate and Rugby Colorado Under-19 team member Eric Hamilton, right, and teammates share a laugh before the opening ceremony of the 12th Rocky Mountain Rugby Challenge June 16, 2012, at the Aurora Sports Park. (Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Prep rugby continues to grow in Colorado and its progress was on display June 16-17 at the 12th Rocky Mountain Rugby Challenge at the Aurora Sports Park.

Rugby Colorado took second in the Under-17 bracket and fourth in the Under-19 group in the annual elite tournament, where 14 prep all-star teams — six U-17, eight U-19 — from a handful of states waged war in 29 contests.

Recent Regis Jesuit graduate Eric Hamilton had the biggest impact of any Aurora player in the tournament, as he was a key part of Rugby Colorado’s fourth-place finish in the tough U-19 bracket.

“We felt really good about the way we played; it was a tough tournament with a lot of good teams,” said Hamilton, who was selected to the 18-player all-tournament team as a hook end, a front row position important for gaining possession in scrums and lineouts.

“We did very well compared to years past. We had a great coaching staff from Regis University and we had a lot more players out this year, so that was a big reason,” he added.

Hamilton and Cherry Creek High School grad Ben Pinkelman  — both headed to play for the burgeoning program at Colorado State —  were the all-tournament picks for Rugby Colorado, which lost to Wisconsin 36-33 in the third-place game.

Hamilton appreciated the chance to continue playing after wrapping up his career with the Regis Jesuit rugby team, one of the top squads in the state at the club level along with Denver East, Cherry Creek and the Aurora Saracens.

The overall development of the sport made it easier for the Rugby Colorado team to find the cohesion once the team was decided at a selection camp at the University of Denver.

“Rugby is really growing in popularity and there’s more interest at a lot of schools around,” Hamilton said. “The good part is this is really the best in the state, so everybody is knowledgeable about the game.  We didn’t have to go over a lot of basics, we just came together, learned some plays and learned how to work together.”

The U-19 team won its first two games in pool play — edging Southern California 21-19 and topping Texas 22-10 — before falling to Minnesota 19-10.

Minnesota went on to win the championship, topping Heart of America (Kansas, Missouri) 17-12 in a tense final match.

The Rugby Colorado Under-17 team played for the tournament title on Sunday, but an absolutely loaded Southern Cal team rolled to a decisive 40-5 victory. The Griffins also beat Rugby Colorado 22-0 in the opener on Saturday and then steamrolled through the tournament, winning four games by a combined score of 113-16. Not surprisingly, Southern Cal had nine selections on the 18-player U-17 all-tournament team.

The two losses to Southern Cal put Rugby Colorado — which had a variety of Aurora prep players on the roster — at 2-2 for the tournament. The wins came over Minnesota in pool play (17-7) and in the semifinals, where it topped Wisconsin 19-5. Scrum half Alex Werner and back Lucas Atwood were named to the all-tournament team.

Regis Jesuit’s Reed Ronan, Rangeview’s Justin Hahne and Filipe Fifita, Gateway’s Nehumi ‘A-B’ Mapa and William Vea rounded out Aurora’s U-17 contingent.

The tournament was a good showcase for players from all teams to try to catch the eye of a number of USA Rugby observers who will pick future international youth teams.

Notes: A huge group of players and their families, coaches, trainers and volunteers from the tournament went to see the USA Eagles play the Republic of Georgia on Saturday at Infinity Park in Glendale. According to Rocky Mountain Challenge director Jeff Calhoun, seven of the starters on the USA team had played in the Rocky Mountain Challenge. Eight of the Eagles players watched action and gave out awards on Sunday.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555

12TH ANNUAL ROCKY MOUNTAIN RUGBY CHALLENGE

June 16-17 at Aurora Sports Park

Final standings — Under 17: 1. Southern California; 2. RUGBY COLORADO; 3. Wisconsin; 4. Minnesota; 5. Heart of America; 6. Texas; Under 19: 1. Minnesota; 2. Heart of America; 3. Wisconsin; 4. RUGBY COLORADO; 5. Southern California; 6. Louisiana; 7. Texas; 8. Nebraska

Championship results Under 17: Championship game — Southern California 40, RUGBY COLORADO 5; SemifinalsRUGBY COLORADO 19, Wisconsin 5; Southern Cal 38, Heart of America 5; Under 19: Championship game — Minnesota 17, Heart of America 12; Third-place game — Wisconsin 36, RUGBY COLORADO 33; Fifth-place game — Southern Cal def. Louisiana; Seventh-place game — Texas 31, Nebraska 14

Pool play results — Under 17: Pool A — Wisconsin 15, Heart of America 3; Heart of America 17, Texas 13; Texas 19, Wisconsin 15; Pool B — Southern Cal 22, RUGBY COLORADO 0; Southern Cal 13, Minnesota 6; RUGBY COLORADO 17, Minnesota 7; Under 19: Pool A — Heart of America 26, Louisiana 0; Wisconsin 33, Nebraska 17; Heart of America 28, Wisconsin 26; Louisiana 24, Nebraska 20; Wisconsin 31, Louisiana 5; Heart of America 26, Nebraska 17; Pool B — Minnesota 27, Texas 5; RUGBY COLORADO 21, Southern Cal 19; RUGBY COLORADO 22, Texas 10; Minnesota 13, Southern Cal 7; Southern Cal 20, Texas 12; Minnesota 19, RUGBY COLORADO 10

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

Under-17: 1. Jake McDonaugh (Heart of America); 2. Sean McFarland (Wisconsin); 3. Inoke Ralkadroka (Southern Cal); 4. Reed Heynan (Southern Cal); 5. Connor Gleason (Wisconsin); 6. Miles Devine (Wisconsin); 7. Jonathon Raby (Southern Cal); 8. Lanier Szymanski (Wisconsin); 9. ALEX WERNER (RUGBY COLORADO); 10. Danny Thomas (Southern Cal); 11. Mitchell Guzman (Southern Cal); 12. Alsea Tongilaua (Southern Cal); 13. Billy Maggs (Southern Cal); 14. Lanier Gonzalez (Texas); 15. Matt Lang (Southern Cal); 16. Zack Haley (Minnesota); 17. LUCAS ATWOOD (RUGBY COLORADO); 18. Drew Gaffney (Southern Cal)

Under-19: 1. Jordan McMichael (Southern Cal); 2. ERIC HAMILTON (RUGBY COLORADO); 3. Kyle Murphy (Heart of America); 4. Brady Lepak (Wisconsin); 5. Chris Marias (Minnesota); 6. Hanco Germishap (Nebraska); 7. Zack Bente (Southern Cal); 8. Taylor Neaton (Minnesota); 9. Matt White (Minnesota); 10. Jack Healy (Minnesota); 11. Ben Ollie (Minnesota); 12. Trevor Hergert (Wisconsin); 13. BEN PINKELMAN (RUGBY COLORADO); 14. Nate Beaulieu (Minnesota); 15. Brendan Nachbar (Heart of America); 16. Caleb Concannon (Heart of America); 17. Codi Jones (Southern Cal); 18. Bernard Stotts (Wisconsin)