LITTLETON — They’re at polar-opposite ends of the spectrum. One team is a state powerhouse coming off a Division II championship. The other is trying to find its footing again.
PAC Rugby, made up of players from Conifer, Platte Canyon and Evergreen high schools, finally got the monkey off its back in 2012, winning the Rugby Colorado Division II state title in its third straight trip to the finals. The victory over Grand Gents last May, however, is hopefully just the beginning, head coach Hugh Miller said.
“We want to have high goals. It’s not just make the playoffs, but it’s to win another state championship,” Miller said. “We want to build the program to the point where we are (consistently) going to the state finals, then we can jump up to Division I and keep testing ourselves.”
SWARM Rugby, meanwhile, a team with players from Columbine, Chatfield, Dakota Ridge, D’Evelyn and Mullen high schools, is coming off a 2-8 season and moved down from Division I to D-II this season specifically so that it could get back to the level that a team, such as PAC, is at.
“We’re kind of in a rebuilding phase. We only have five guys with any kind of real experience. So we’re building and growing,” first-year SWARM head coach Tom Ren said. “We’re inexperienced, but we’re picking it up slowly but surely. Playing against the defending state champions gives us an opportunity to see where we’re at.”
The outcome in the regular-season opener March 2 at Front Range Christian School was lopsided. PAC jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead and never trailed en route to a 36-0 victory. Connor Kissler scored a pair of tries — Rugby’s equivalent of a touchdown — while Daniel Mayor, Brendan Burchett and Thomas Kim also scored.
“The game went great. We got the shutout, which is what we wanted the most. We scored a lot of points,” Kissler said. “There were a few little mistakes that we’ve got to fix if we want to win a state championship.”
Yet, rest assured, if the first of eight regular-season contests was any indication, PAC Rugby is off to a good start in its quest to repeat in 2013.
“We’re just trying to build on that and get the team stronger and faster and keep our title, defend the state championship,” said PAC’s Don Fuller, a Conifer senior.
State titles are the furthest thing from the minds of the SWARM program. A team that once was in the position with the numbers that PAC has is just trying to re-establish itself one step at a time. Of the 15 players on this year’s roster, two-thirds of them have never played before. It’s a tough learning curve.
“Last year we really didn’t have that many experienced players, either. So we took a vote at the end of the season to move down to D-II so that we could have less experience and more fun learning rather than getting creamed every game,” SWARM player and Chatfield senior Dakota Alvarez said.
High school rugby in Colorado is split into three divisions, with Division II being the middle of those. Division I is for the more advanced programs. That, as much as anything, along with its inexperience, played a major role in Swarm’s decision to move down this season.
“That’s really what it’s about. It’s the process of moving forward. As long as we’re taking steps in a positive direction, we’ll be all right,” Ren said.
PAC Rugby is more than OK. A team with nearly three times as many players, PAC is overflowing with talent. And with that talent comes the skill set to be successful.
“We’ve got a lot of speed out, good recruiting,” PAC’s Alex Wormer said. “As long as we teach the new guys the game, we’ve got a lot of talent that can really do some damage.”
And that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the division.
Contact Michael Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.