Locals to play in rugby Final 4

Steamboat Springs athletes help boost revival of Aspen squad

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This is right where the Gentlemen of Aspen Division I rugby team expected to be.

Thanks to two wins during the weekend in Austin, Texas, Aspen is back in the Division I Final Four for the first time in years.

After years of dominance and national championships in the late 1990s, the team has been revitalized, thanks in large part to several key cogs from Steamboat Springs.

Steamboat's Michael Hurley, Chris Baumann and Shane Dooley all have played a key part. Abel Varney and Nick Nespeca, who play for the Steamboat summer club, also have played with Aspen.

"We've been building it up the last three years with a new team," Hurley said. "Finally, we're making it back to the Final Four."

In the Sweet 16, Aspen played Provo, Utah - a team mostly made up of native Tongans. Despite giving away size at nearly every position, Aspen prevailed, 25-5.

The game was scoreless for the first 59 minutes before Aspen got four tries and a penalty late in the game.

"It was a huge win for us," Hurley said. "We just outplayed them and wanted it more. At the end of the day, it looked like a pretty easy game, but it didn't reflect the result. For 60 minutes, it was anybody's game."

In the Elite 8, two early tries propelled Aspen to a 15-7 win against Los Angeles.

Now, the team turns its attention to the May 30 and 31 Final Four in Glendale, just southeast of Denver, where the team will open against the Atlanta Renegades. In the other semifinal, Pearl City, Iowa, plays Las Vegas.

Hurley said Pearl City is probably the favorite after making the Final Four last year. He said he doesn't know much about the Atlanta team, but with the way Aspen is playing, Hurley thinks the team will have every opportunity to advance to the finals.

"Our goal is to get through the game on Saturday and making (the) final Sunday," he said. "Our real goal is to win the championship."

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