Photo by Joel Reichenberger
Steamboat Springs rugby player Chris Cole reaches for the ball Thursday afternoon as the team practiced for one of the final times before its first game. The squad will travel Saturday to play in Boulder, its only exhibition game before league play starts.
Yeah, like a little mud was going to stop them.
The Steamboat Springs men's rugby club took to the Colorado Mountain College fields Thursday evening despite a day of rain. To their credit, they avoided the puddles and stayed on the grassy end of the field. Given what the players have in mind for their new season, it came as little surprise that the squad found a way and the enthusiasm to practice.
"We're feeling quietly confident we'll have a really good side," team veteran Michael Hurley said. "Last year was certainly the team of the decade for us, the best team Steamboat has ever fielded. We raised the bar pretty high."
Steamboat finished 15-1 a year ago. It was twice crowned a tournament champion and at the end of the year claimed the Rocky Mountain League title. After the best season in the program's history, the team is eager to repeat its success in 2008.
That process will get an unofficial start Saturday afternoon in Boulder when Steamboat travels to play its only exhibition game of the season.
"We've opened the season playing against them for the past couple years. They're a really tough, well seasoned club that's been around a long time," Hurley said. "They'll give us a good hit before the season and give our guys a run before we start playing in the really big games."
The team is eager to continue its success, but staying atop the league is no given. Steamboat lost a few of its best players from a year ago - "guys that are irreplaceable," Hurley said - plus, the weather has hindered the team's practice time.
Hoping to fill in for the players lost is a crop of promising newcomers. Graham Muir, the team's coach, estimated 40 percent of those practicing Thursday were new to the squad, and he was expecting more new athletes to arrive in the coming days and weeks.
"People are still arriving back in town, and we haven't had good weather in the last few weeks to train. We're probably two or three weeks behind," Muir said. "This first one is just a preseason game, so we'll deal with it as we can. We have to get some games under our belt before the league starts."
No matter the outcome of Saturday's game in Boulder, the team's veterans are convinced the squad won't yield all it gained last year.
Eric Dorris, a Steamboat resident and a 15-year member of the club, said things have never been better.
"We've taken what we had here to a different level," Dorris said. "It's been on a steady incline. We've been fortunate to have a cohesive group starting about six years ago that's just gotten better and better.
"I don't see why this year wouldn't be better than last, and last year was pretty darn good."
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