Steamboat Springs rugby player Steve "Zog" Herzog plows into Richard Loop, right, and Erik Wernig on Thursday during practice at Whistler Field. The 34th annual Cow Pie Classic Rugby Tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs rugby player Steve "Zog" Herzog plows into Richard Loop, right, and Erik Wernig on Thursday during practice at Whistler Field. The 34th annual Cow Pie Classic Rugby Tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Steamboat rugby making Cow Pie Classic 'No. 1 goal'

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— It's safe to say the Steamboat Rugby Club's season hasn't started the way the team anticipated.

After one loss all of last year, Steamboat has struggled to a 2-2 record in 2008.

But the early ups and downs could change in a weekend. The Super Bowl for the green and orange comes Saturday and Sunday, by way of the 34th annual Cow Pie Classic Rugby Tournament in Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat opens play at noon Saturday against Fort Collins and follows with a 2 p.m. game against Boulder.

The games will be played at the Ski Town Fields on Pine Grove Road, next to The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

"We've had high goals after last year, but the reality is the Mountain League is getting stronger and stronger every year," Steamboat captain Michael Hurley said. "But without a doubt, the Cow Pie is our No. 1 goal for the season."

Last year, Steamboat won the Cow Pie for the first time since 1981.

This year, Hurley said, the competition might be the best it ever has. The tournament features three pools. The winners of each pool advance to the semifinals along with the next best team from the three pools.

Steamboat's in a pool with Fort Collins and Boulder. Vail, Aspen and Wyoming form another pool, while Glenwood, Breckenridge and a team from Utah form the third.

There also will be an Old Boys tournament featuring teams from Steamboat, Boulder, Wyoming, Colorado Springs and Denver. The Steamboat Old Boys open play at 1 p.m. Saturday against the team from Denver.

Hurley said any number of teams could win it, with Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Utah and Wyoming coming as Steamboat's biggest challenges.

"It's the most open Cow Pie we've ever had," Hurley said. "Vail was in the finals with us last year, and then you have Wyoming and Aspen. And as Breckenridge proved against us, anyone can beat on anyone on any given day."

Steamboat should look more like last year's team Saturday, with the return of several key players from injury.

Hurley and No. 8 man Chris Baumann are probable to return from wrist injuries that have kept the pair, two of Steamboat's most important players, off the pitch for several games.

Along with playing strong defense, managing a team's roster might be the biggest thing that leads to victory in the Cow Pie, Hurley said.

With three wins Saturday needed to get to Sunday's championship game, the best-conditioned team might prevail.

It should help that Steamboat has a big squad and has traditionally had a tremendous amount of success against Fort Collins and Boulder. Hurley said if Steamboat can get big leads in its pool-play games, the team will be much more fresh for the semifinal and potential final games.

"It's good we always have a big squad," Hurley said. "Either way we will be ready, switched on and tuned into playing some good rugby."

After the on-field action, Steamboat Rugby will host its 15th annual Toga Party at Sunpie's Bistro on Saturday.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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