Pac Rugby dominant, recaptures state title

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Mountain-area lacrosse program avenges 2013 state semifinal loss with a lopsided win over rival from Aspen

By Michael Hicks

GLENDALE — AJ Eleniewski stared at the scoreboard, seeing the results of toughness, good defense and hard hits. It also reflected a team that wanted badly to win.
What he saw at Infinity Park on May 10 was a 31-3 PAC RFC victory over the Jr. Gents of Aspen in a Division II rugby state championship game that was every bit as one-sided on the scoreboard as it was on the pitch.
Kip Nilson scored a pair of tries, rugby’s equivalent to a touchdown, and Alex Wormer made three penalty kicks as PAC led from start to finish in completing an unblemished 10-0 season. The win marked the second Division II state title in three season for PAC, but this one, unlike in 2012, was never in doubt.
“We had a little more struggles our sophomore year. We had to grind it out a little bit more,” Eleniewski said. PAC beat the Jr. Gents in the finals in 2012 by a 27-7 score to complete an 8-3 season. “This year, from the start, we knew we could be the best team.”
Just how good was PAC in 2014? Consider that it didn’t allow more than three points in any of its three postseason matches, it won its 10 games by an average of 37.8 points per outing, and the 31 points scored in the finals matched a season-low. That’s not too shabby.
Zach Toler and Greysen Lincoln added a try each as PAC avenged a 20-19 loss to the Jr. Gents in the 2013 state semifinals. The Aspen squad won that match with a last-second try after trailing 12-0 at halftime.
That loss was a bitter pill to swallow, Conifer junior Grant Williamson said, but it also served as a motivator for 2014. How much did that loss mean?
“Everything,” said PAC head coach Hugh Miller, who was named the Division II coach of the year. “The whole theme of the season was to get back the title, and this was the team we wanted to get it back from.”
Nilson, who scored late in each half, agreed.
“The motivation was huge. We definitely didn’t want to feel like we did last year,” Nilson said. “We brought it to them today, executed our game plan and came out victorious.”
That game plan undoubtedly included PAC’s speed, and it had plenty of that, especially Nilson. Aspen had few answers for PAC’s attack from the back line on outside routes.
“Our whole game plan was to get out to the wings. That’s how we’ve always played,” Nilson said. “We knew we could execute tonight. We knew that we were the better team. We knew that we had a good back line.”
“Our backs were a lot faster this year,” said Wormer, an Evergreen senior and the Division II student-athlete of the year. “We worked hard. The difference was probably our forwards and, honestly, we didn’t commit as many penalties.”
The Jr. Gents’ only points came on a Robert Hiles penalty kick in the 23rd minute.
When PAC wasn’t scoring at will — it scored the game’s first eight points and led 13-3 at halftime — it was stuffing the Jr. Gents’ offensive attack. The defending state champions maneuvered to within feet of the PAC goal area in the 48th minute but came up empty.
“What it came down to is willpower,” Lincoln said. “When they got down in there, we started taking it to them. We didn’t want anybody in our try zone today. That was our goal. We just willed them out of there, got the ball back and cleared it out really quickly.”

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.