|Dewon Reed wiggling free in the DI final in June. Pat Clifton photo|
All eyes are on Glendale as the 2011-2012 Division I season opens this weekend. National champion Raptors are preparing to defend their title though they’re idle on the weekend. But for the sides in their Western Territorial Northern Tier division, each match will be a chance to prove their mettle in competition with the premier US clubside.
Mark Bullock, Glendale’s director of rugby, indicates the Raptors will be up to the task: “We’ve lost a few from last year’s championship side, but we’ve gained some as well. We’d like the opportunity to return to the championship semifinals. We have a new group of guys, so it’s not the same team that won last year.”
Glendale will have lost two of their front three with prop Mike Tafel taking a break in the fall and hooker Shae Tamati returning to New Zealand, while lock Keith Dauper’s and center Justin Howley’s playing time will be limited due to work commitments. In addition (or subtraction), ageless halfback Andre Bachelet has retired and will concentrate his talents on coaching the side back to the playoffs.
However, fullback/wing and former USA Eagle Dan Powers, hooker Stan Moali and massive 8-man Ryan Chapman join the squad, as do former Aspen RFC players Matt Doubek (lock/#6) and Spencer Scott (flanker). New additions Eric DeFilice (center – Penn State) and Douglas Garrison (former All-American second row at Arkansas State) will don Glendale red-white-and-blue for the first time this fall as well.
“All our league matches are critical,” reports Bullock, “and in addition, we’ve scheduled Chicago Griffins, Old Puget Sound Beach, Palmer, and the Brazilian National Team in 2011-12. We hope to continue to compete at a high standard and represent the City of Glendale with quality rugby contests.”
Denver Rugby, whose Highlanders took second in the table last season, look to return to USARugby’s Round of 16. Head coach Pete Shafroth foresees a positive turn in his club’s near future: “We lost our Kiwis, prop and fullback, but I don’t feel we’ve lost that much. We’re strong in the front row and are quicker in our three-quarter line.”
Joe Moli (San Francisco Golden Gate) and Steve Blair (former Scotland international, Aspen RFC and Vail RFC head coach) have joined DR’s coaching staff. Shafroth indicates that overall, Denver Rugby’s depth has increased and solidified, “We’ve added half dozen newcomers, and two players who were out with major injuries last year have returned - Ryan Purdy (hooker) and Jeremy Wineland (breakaway), both impact players.” Shafroth looks for his boys to return to playoffs with vigor and make a run at the finals.
Kansas City Blues vice president, Peter Kowalski, looks for improvement on last hunt’s 3rd place result: “In the forwards we’ve lost two frontrowmen, but we’ve replacements and have strength in our engine room and back row with the addition of lock Matt Potchad who returns from time in the Super League at Chicago Lions, and overall I expect good things from the scrum.”
The Blues backline will feature Joe D’Agostino (Kansas State, West 7s - 2008), who can play either flyhalf or fullback, and St. Louis University product Kelly Mercer at scrumhalf. “We’re looking for good rugby from those two, and we’ve inside center Jay Allen back from injury and from our (Jr. Blues) Academy, 21-year old James Poli in the centers,” he adds.
“We’ll pretty much have last year’s side, though we’ve quite a few new recruits,” says Denver Barbarians head coach, Jason Kelly. “Not name players as such, but a talented group nonetheless.” Barbarians are largely in flux in the fall with a bit of transience taking place from fall through the off season as they ramp up for the spring Rugby Super League campaign.
Boulder Rugby Athletic Club has a mind to improve upon last year’s performance. A healthy-sized recruiting class in addition to their steadfast core should see them raising their standard in 2011-12.
Western RFU’s D I Northern Tier action kicks off this weekend with Denver Rugby Highlanders hosting Boulder Rugby Athletic Club Saturday at Glendale’s Infinity Park rugby complex while KC Blues face off against Heart of America powerhouse, St Louis Bombers in the Gateway City.