December, 2007

2nd Annual University of Arizona Rugby Rage
By Gabe Nyrkkanen

Tucson Arizona: The University of Arizona Wheelchair Rugby Wildcats played host to the 2nd annual U of A Rugby Rage on Nov 30–Dec 2.  The competition at this tournament ranged from new D2 level teams to the defending National champion Denver Harlequins. 

8th Place U of A Blue team consisted of U of A’s developing players and led by crafty veteran Mark Hansen.  The Blue squad also had the assistance of pick-up player Zack Tapec from San Diego.  This team showed promise though they only came away with one victory over the Nick Springer aided Utah Scorpions. 

7th Place Phoenix Outcasts made the short drive down with their team consisting of former Heat and Sting players.  The Outcasts had a hard fought weekend as the first day of action matched them up with both Denver and the U of A’s A squad in pool play. The following day, the boys showed up rejuvenated and got their first win in a nail biter against the Skulls. They came up short later against the Scorpions, but they had a decisive victory over U of A Blue for 7th.

6th Place Utah Scorpions invited the always impressive Nick Springer to fill out a line-up with new Scorpion Dave Nicholls. The Scorpions had a rough time during pool play and ended with 3 losses, but they got it done in the cross-over against the Outcasts which put them in the 5th/6th place game on Sunday with the Sin City Skulls. 

5th Place Sin City Skulls have a balanced line-up of up and comers with a few veterans thrown in the mix.  The Skulls also had it rough being in the same pool with Denver and U of A as they dropped both games on Friday.  They also came up short in Saturday morning’s match-up with the Outcasts but they got the job done in the crossover with U of A Blue to secure their spot in the 5th/6th place game with the Scorpions.  The Skulls/Scorpions rivalry proved to be the closest match-up of the tournament. The Skulls made up a 3 goal deficit in the closing minutes of the game and eventually came out on top 51-50.

4th Place Michigan Storm brought their big guys Brian Sheridan and Scott Severn along with that wily Canadian Erika Schmutz and another up and coming player, 1.0 Andy Zimmer.  The Storm proved to be powerful opponents but their lack of experience together became evident in their match-ups with the higher seeded teams.  Northridge handed the Storm 2 losses including a hard fought match-up for 3rd place. 

3rd place Northridge Kings had their starting line-up together for the Rage which included former Quake players, Earl Bowser and Justin Patterson, Canadian import, Sey Luangkhamdeng and the sole starter from Northridge last season, Lee Mercado.  The Kings had a solid weekend with decisive victories over each of their opponents.  Their only loss came at the hands of the U of A Wildcats.

2nd Place Denver Harlequins proved to be the imposing force they have been for the past few seasons, but 2.0 Josh Stapen has had some mighty big shoes to fill with the loss of Great Britain import Ross Morrison.  The Chance Sumner led Harlequins steam rolled their way through pool play as they literally left their opponents bruised and bloody.  Denver’s match with U of A in pool play proved to be a formidable challenge as the defending national champs found themselves down by 2 at the half.  In the 2nd half, Denver showed their poise and experience as they quickly closed the gap and eventually created a margin that the young Wildcats could not overcome.  The Quins breezed through their crossover against the Storm and found themselves in a rematch with the Wildcats for sole possession of 1st place.  However, the speed and intensity of the Wildcats as well as the depth of U of A’s bench proved to be too much for Denver as they dropped the game 42-50.

1st Place U of A Wildcats have finally arrived as a force in Division 1.  The U of A’s starting line-up contains a combination of speed, power, intensity and ingenuity.  The Wildcats may also be one of the youngest teams in the league with their starters the speedy 1.0, Chad Cohn, the hard hitting 2.5, Aaron Roux, the Canadian import Travis Murao 2.0 and the intense fireball 2.0, Derrick Helton.  This Wildcat team, with their starters together for the first time this season, looked to be in prime shape for their home tournament.  And while Denver handed them their only tournament loss during pool play, the young Wildcats showed their poise as they came back for the championship game with an intensity that Denver could not keep up with.  Key substitutions with a deep Wildcat bench kept the guys fresh and focused as they secured a 50-42 victory and the Wildcats first ever tournament title in its 18 years of existence. 

Thanks to all the participating teams and especially to all the sponsors and volunteers that made the 2007 U of A Rugby Rage a success!

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