Steamboat Springs There's more at stake than just a trophy when the Steamboat Rugby Club takes to the field Saturday at the Ski Town Classic Rugby Tournament in Park City, Utah.
Steamboat - winners of the past two Ski Town Classic tournaments - could establish itself as one of the premiere club teams in the Western United States with a win this weekend.
Steamboat's success this season has come despite having to rely on new players and not its typical stable of foreigners. Nonetheless, Steamboat won the Mountain League title and Cow Pie Classic tournament for the third year in a row.
"If we won Park City, we'd set the pace for everyone with club-level rugby," local player Charlie Pappas said. "We've won everything for the last two years. This year, we don't have the foreign guys we've had. It's basically the local guys doing the dirty work."
Saturday's tournament, however, could provide Steamboat its toughest test of the season. Montana stalwarts Missoula and Bozeman have a shot to win, and Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Glenwood Springs and Breckenridge also are expected to field competitive teams.
Host Park City enters the tournament as the favorite. The team has sent multiple players to the U.S. Eagles national team and always fields one of the most competitive Division I squads.
"The expectation is to make the final," Steamboat coach and captain Michael Hurley said. "We had two goals at the start of the season, those being defend the Cow Pie and defend the Ski Town."
Steamboat opens its tournament play at 10 a.m. Saturday against Bozeman. The team then plays Jackson Hole at noon. How Steamboat finishes in pool play will determine whether it qualifies for the semifinals later in the day.
Hurley said Steamboat will have to continue to rely on its defense and look to turn turnovers into offensive opportunities.
But maybe the most important factor, Hurley said, is that with a one-day tournament, the fittest team usually wins.
"It will be a battle of attrition with four games in a day," he said. "We know guys will get injured and guys will get fatigued. But with a little bit of luck this weekend, we'll get it done."