Rugby: Shelton trio helps Aspetuck place second at national finals

Noah Jones reaches high to grab the ball for the Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club during the high school national championships. — Peter Stack photo

The Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club varsity team finished its first appearance in the High School National Championship Tournament with a second-place standing in the Tier Two bracket on May 17-19. The tournament was held in Kansas City, Mo., over three grueling days of play in 90-degree heat.

Aspetuck, which practices and plays at Joel Barlow High School, was one of only 24 schools or clubs in the country to receive an invitation to the tournament.

The team features three players from Shelton: Shawn Nitsche, Matthew Weiner and Raymond Weiner, whose father, also Ray, is the coach of the team.

The 29-man varsity roster also includes players from Wilton, Ridgefield, Monroe, Milford, Stratford, New Fairfield, Middlebury, Hamden, West Haven, and Oxford. There are also six players from Hopewell Junction, N.Y., and one player from Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

The first match on May 17 saw Aspetuck take on a select side, Phoenix Rugby Club from Alpharetta, Ga. Trailing throughout the match, with five minutes left to play, Aspetuck scored a try and successfully kicked the extra points to take a 28-27 lead. Tough defense made that slim margin hold up for the team’s first win.

On day two, top-seeded Eastside Rugby from Seattle fielded a big, physical side that had an impressive 12-1 record coming into the match. Aspetuck relinquished an early lead but kept within striking distance through the punishing heat, needing to reshuffle its lineup to cover for injuries.

With no time left to play, a brilliant 60-meter back-move (an open-field run with passes between players) saw four Aspetuck ball handlers deliver a crushing blow to make the score 16-15 for Aspetuck as the referee blew the whistle to end the match and send the Aspetuck boys into the finals.

The championship game was against the San Diego Mustangs on Saturday, May 19. Aspetuck was depleted by injuries after two bruising wins and didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with a deeper and more athletic side from California. But the boys’ effort never let up and they punched another last-minute score across as the clock ran out for a final score of 38-19.

It was an impressive showing for the team’s debut on a national championship stage. Players, parents and coaches returned home with a lot of pride in their accomplishments. To add to the recognition, the tournament committee awarded Aspetuck a special prize to recognize the hard play, sportsmanship and fan contributions of the club — a full set of team jerseys presented by the tournament’s sponsors.

The Aspetuck Valley Rugby Club fields five youth and high school teams with players drawn from across southern Connecticut and New York.

The high school program is open to players who attend schools without an active rugby program.

Other area players on the team are Luke Davies, Jesse Hirtenstein, Patrick Stack and Alexander Milne of Weston; James Porter of Easton; Jack Preston and Gunnar Desantis of Redding; Jacob Robb and Stephen Kendra of Wilton; Matthew Masi of Ridgefield; Joseph Coscia and Mate Kvirkashvili of Monroe; Noah Jones of Milford; Joshua Lisi of Stratford; Max Bournos of New Fairfield; Jeffrey Greenhouse of Middlebury; Nehemiah Harris of Hamden; Pearson Hill of West Haven; and Robert Sergiyenko of Oxford.

No experience is necessary for players from ages 10 to 18 interested in joining and learning to play the fastest growing team sport in America.

For more information, go to www.aspetuckrugby.org.

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