Defiance set for step up to Division II
It’s not just a social team anymore.
With it’s 10th birthday right around the corner, the Glenwood Springs Defiance Rugby Club recently took the large step up in competition from summer league to a competitive Division II schedule. The first test comes Saturday when Queen City, out of the Denver area, visits Glenwood for the Division II opener at 1 p.m. at Glenwood Park.
“It’s great for me to see the club come this distance,” said Tim Swanson, who, along with Chris Romme, Jeff Bowlen and James Montaine, is credited with founding the Glenwood club. “And it’s about time we started doing something.”
While nine years seems like a long time, the Defiance club has grown dramatically in that time.
The club began with former Aspen Gentlemen players who “weren’t getting enough playing time and decided to stop driving up valley,” said flyhalf John Zalinski, who joined the squad in 1994.
Zalinski is one of 12 players who remain on the team from the first summer season.
When the club started, it was a struggle to get enough players out for practice to field four-on-four drills. But, “somehow on (gameday) we always pulled together 15 players for a team,” Swanson said.
The four-on-four drills were the seed for a roster that now boasts 35 players, and, unlike the Super League champion Aspen squad, it’s primarily players from the area.
We’re just a bunch of local guys who basically have coached ourselves for the last 9 years,” Zalinski said. “We called it a social team, but now that we have more players we’re playing real competitive rugby. It’s kind of nice to get a little respect.”
While the team does gain some respectability with the Division II slate, it won’t start competing with the Aspen squad – which recruits players from around the world – on or off the field anytime soon. And that’s fine with the Defiance players.
“Basically our goal is to be a local team with local players and always have our own identity,” Swanson said.
“We’re using the community as an asset for the team,” added recently elected team captain Mitch Bowers. “It makes it more genuine and adds a little more (community) ownership to the team.”
And, while there are 12 players from the original season still on the roster, the team is also seeing an infusion of young local talent by tapping area high schools through clinics and camps.
“The kids are thinking if they don’t make the football team, they can always play rugby,” Swanson said.
Chaz Peiffer is part of that new blood coming into the program. The 19-year-old Glenwood Springs High School graduate is relishing the opportunity to learn the sport of rugby.
“There’s some excellent teachers and they all took some time to help out the younger guys,” Peiffer said. “It’s kind of exciting to see the team finally make the decision to step up and say, `hey, we’re going to play Division II.’ Hopefully we’ll take a little exposure from the Aspen team and people will start to notice that Glenwood has a competitive rugby team.”
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.