Rocky Mountain Challenge Preview
Defending Boys Varsity champions Eagle Impact Rugby Academy SoCal returns, and while this squad might not be expected to dominate to the level it did in 2016, this EIRA SoCal team should be a force to be reckoned with.
EIRA also has a team from the Midwest that doesn't have quite the pedigree, but will showcase several players who showed well at the Boys HS Rugby National Championships.
Heart of America does, too, with the remarkable Sam Gasparovich (St. Thomas Aquinas) moving from flyhalf to fullback to find room for KC Jr. Blues flyhalf Chandler Owens. Watch out for Ethan Wagner, just a sophomore for STA, and new to the game, but one who is getting better. These all-star tournaments are excellent showcases for teams that don't always get notices, and so you might see the likes of Winnetonka's Jessi Mizner fill the "where did that guy come from?" role.
The Utah Rugby Academy will officially announce its partnership with Atavus later this summer, but will make a soft launch this weekend as the Atavus Rugby Academy. Head Coach Michael Cressler has a bunch of players from Snow Canyon, Kau Toa, Olympus, and Genesis - basically teams that almost made it to a state title but not quite. They are a talented and hungry group - watch out for Tai Kauwe of Genesis.
That's just a taste of who is there. More to come as the rosters are confirmed. Here's our take on the preliminary schedule and who looks good.
Boys Varsity Pools
Pool AEIRA SoCal
Heart of America
Missouri Youth All Stars
West Valley Warriors
We touched on SoCal, and the IRA team is very good. HOA should play well as a unit, while Missouri will struggle with the physicality of HOA and West Valley. The West Valley Warriors won the Utah HS Club division, and they are coming as a solid unit of players that know each other. They basically felt there was more to do. So this is not really an all-star team, but you know that a very good HS club can cause a less cohesive group of supposedly better players plenty of problems.
Top in Pool: EIRA SoCal.
Dark Horse: West Valley, but more in terms of winning the consolation bracket.
(Not, the other pools have three teams, and those pools will play a round-robin. For Pool A, EIRA SoCal will play West Valley, and HOA will ply Missouri. The winners will play to win the pool.)
Pool BAtavus Academy Utah
This pool could see three teams go 1-1. Wisconsin lost a warmup against Illinois this past week and that's not good news. However, they also were holding out their superb flyhalf, Matt Ruppel, who is recovering from an injury. Nebraska is a complete dark horse, as the teams there play inside their own corn-fed bubble and don't go outside the state to test themselves. But, their physical and their league is hyper competitive, which means they won't back down.
Top in Pool: Probably Utah. Speaking of a competitive league, Utah has more really good teams than any state other than California.
5785 started out as a team of players from the Colorado Springs area, and has now expanded to include some players from high altitude areas of New Mexico, Idaho (5785 refers to the average altitude of Colorado Springs and Boulder) and some other places, as well. They don't have a team of time to put it all together. Texas has had some time together since the state championship. This group should be solid. And don't overlook Oklahoma. Union HS in Oklahoma has been as successful in producing age-grade and senior national team players as just about any program in recent years. They don't mess around, and Union just barely won the state championship this season.
Top in Pool: There's no way to pick. This could well be a 1-1 group, as well. We'll go with Oklahoma.
Our concern with Arizona is whether the Bobcats players have had too much time between the league season and now. Probably not. The Bobcats program is well-run and well-coached. EIRA Midwest has already tested itself, and if you just go by the first half against Celtic Ohio (22-0 before they subbed out), you've got to think they can perform. Colorado is like the Utah team above - many players from programs that didn't quite make the top level. Hooker Austin Barnes is a hooker to watch.
Top in Pool: EIRA Midwest, based on game time already logged.
So this is a very competitive bracket, which is why the defending champs get to play the best club in Utah in the first game.
Varsity GirlsAtavus Academy Utah
This is going to be like a mini national championship. Wisconsin is packed with outstanding HS programs, and so is Colorado. It's like Divine Savior Holy Angels (Milwaukee) versus Summit (Colorado) with some added spice. Atavus Utah will be a team to watch out for.
JV BoysEIRA Midwest
Heart of America
Depth at the JV level (basically should be more like the U16 level) is tougher to boast on a consistent basis. The work done for these young players and younger is something that should be supported more and more. The EIRA teams should be solid here, and Colorado and 5785 will do well also.
The existence of Texoma spells out the problems with enforcing Varsity/JV rules in girls teams. Most of these select-side programs are drawing from a small pool of players, maybe 100. To find a squad of 25 who are juniors and seniors, and 25 who are freshmen and sophomores, is really tough. Sometimes a varsity team can only take the field if half the players are sophomores. So some work hard to field two teams and hope the depth hold, and some go with just Varsity. Texoma is just JV which says the players they have are all young ... and you can bet they know how to play.
EIRA Midwest Blue
EIRA Midwest Red
Make sure you watch these games when FloRugby live-streams them - you will be shocked at how skilled these kids are.
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