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Fields Of Dreams

Story and Photos by Reid Neureiter

Denver East Rugby Shocks Regis To Win State Title

Denver East rugby players celebrate their state championship title after the final whistle blows. Pictured are Rico Martinez, Romeo Alvarez King, Ijla Proctor, and Devonn Demmer.

 On May 19, the Denver East High School Rugby Club won its sixth state championship title with a thrilling 17-14 come-from-behind victory over Regis Jesuit at Don Breese Stadium in Monument.

East’s rugby club, under the leadership of Coach Bill Baer, has a remarkable history of success, having qualified for the championship match for 16 of the last 17 years. East last won the state title in 2015, and in both 2016 and 2017 lost the title match on literally the last play of those games, to Regis Jesuit and Monarch High respectively. But for this year’s squad, the post-season prospects appeared bleak. Having lost three regular season games, the Angels came into the post-season seeded fourth, with last year’s champion, Monarch High, seeded first and the 2016 champ, Regis Jesuit seeded second.

The underdog Angels faced Monarch in the semi-finals played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on May 12. Monarch jumped out to a quick 15-0 lead, but East responded with more than 30 unanswered points to take a 45-22 victory and book a place in the final against Regis Jesuit.

The championship final was played in very difficult conditions. A 25-mph wind swept across the exposed landscape at Monument’s Don Breese Stadium. Temperature at game-time was 45 degrees and dropping, and a steady rain made the ball slippery and difficult to handle throughout the match.

East began strongly, jumping to a 12-0 lead, with tries scored by junior outside-center Charlie Bennett and senior co-captain Luke Neureiter. But Regis came back, including scoring a difficult upwind try and conversion kick to take and hold a 14-12 lead going into the final three minutes of the match. East needed to score against the wind to have a chance to claim their sixth state title. Enter co-captain Patrick Berzins to play the hero.

Berzins had not played since sustaining a serious concussion in a contest in Oklahoma and was not in the starting line-up in the championship match. Entering the game in the second half, and with just minutes remaining, the senior forward was able to block a Regis clearance kick into Regis’ tryzone. East was given the ball at the five-meter mark and after a few short lateral passes later, East senior wing Devonn Demmer had the ball over the line for a 5-point try and the 17-13 lead that would allow East’s name to be engraved on the Championship Trophy for the sixth time.

For a stellar season, Rugby Colorado awarded Neureiter both its “Player of the Year” and “Student Athlete of the Year” awards after the game, the first time any Colorado high school rugby player has received both awards. For his late-game heroics, Bennett was named “Man of the Match.” (Full disclosure: Neureiter is yours truly’s son.)

USA Rugby Flattens Russia

USA Eagle Paul Lasike reaches to place the ball over the try line and score against Russia.

Just weeks after Denver East’s rugby club (which includes numerous Park Hill residents) won the state high school rugby championship, the United States National Rugby team, the USA Eagles, took on the Russian national team in an international test match at Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

The game was part of the Emirate Summer Rugby Series, that also included a match on June 16 against Scotland in Houston. The USA Eagles are the 15th ranked rugby team in the world, with Russia being ranked 19th. But the score at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was not close, with the USA Eagles thrashing the Russian Bears 62-13.

A number of the USA Eagles play for Colorado’s professional rugby team, the Glendale Raptors, a team that plays its regular season matches at Infinity Park, a rugby-specific stadium in Glendale, just off Colorado Boulevard. The USA Eagles subsequently defeated sixth-ranked Scotland 30-29 in Houston, the USA’s first ever win over Scotland and first victory in over 90 years over a Tier-1 rugby nation.

Fastest Girl In The Country

The fastest girl in the country: Denver East Junior Arria Minor (center) wins her third consecutive Colorado State 100 meters.

Junior superstar sprinter Arria Minor led the Denver East girls track program to great acclaim at the State Track and Field Championships, held May 17-19 at Jefferson County Stadium. Minor came into the Championships as the defending 100, 200, and 400 meters champion. In her 400 preliminary race, Minor ran a 51.92, good enough to set the Colorado state and meet records, and the fastest schoolgirl time in the U.S. this year.

Mother Nature interfered with Minor’s attempt to three-peat in all three sprint events, as on the day of the finals, colder temperatures and a driving rain played havoc during the morning events.

Minor won her first race, the 100 meters, with an 11.51, but was visibly shivering on the podium as she received her winners medal. The 400 meters proved to be too much, as Minor came in second to Grandview’s Lily Williams. Williams took the win with a 53.85, while Minor tightened up down the stretch finishing with a 53.94, nearly two seconds off her national-best time from the preliminaries. Minor rebounded to win the 200 meters, running a 23.60, although she was unable to match her state record 22.89 from the preliminaries.

In a sign of good things to things to come in the years ahead, East freshman Kyairra Reigh finished third in the 400. Senior Syanne Algee finished third in the 200. The East girls also won state titles in the 4×100 meter and 4×200 meter relay events, and finished as the second overall girls track team in the state with 84 points – just one point behind girls team champion, Cherokee Trail.

Denver East Girls Lacrosse Advances To Semi-Finals

Denver East sophomore Lucy McHugh cradles the ball against Colorado Academy in the Colorado state semi-finals.

The Denver East Girls Lacrosse Program capped off an impressive 10-6 season record by upsetting third-seed Columbine to advance to the state semi-finals.

Sixth-seeded East beat perennial lacrosse power Kent Denver in the opening playoff round 14-13 in overtime. The Angels then knocked off Columbine 17-13 in the quarterfinals before falling 11-7 to eventual champion Colorado Academy in the state semi-final round on May 19 at the University of Denver’s Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

The team’s youth bodes well for the future, as East’s top point getters both return next season. Junior Josi Robinson had 52 goals and 27 assists for the season, while sophomore Lucy McHugh tallied 62 goals and 16 assists.

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