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Pygmies Open Season with Three Tournament Wins

SANTA FE, N.M. September 9, 2015 – New Mexico Tech's Pygmy Rugby Club opened their fall season on a promising note Sunday at the Santa Fe Tens Tournament. The Pygmies were the only collegiate team out of a field of 15 to advance to the semifinal stage, where they succumbed 24-12 to an experienced New Mexico Brujos side.  

The Brujos fell to the Colorado Springs Grizzlies in the championship match, while the University of New Mexico's women's team defeated Tucson's Lightning in the seven-team women's final. Cassidy Coleman, Phoebe Nicholls, Brigitte Aragon, and Megan Armstrong of the fledgling Tech Queens women's team played for the New Mexico State University team throughout the day.

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The Pygmies pose for a photo. In front (from left) are John Mark Stiles, Javier Koerdell, James Chavez and Geno Palermo. In the middle are (from left) Josh Hudgeons, Dustin Webb, Dave Wheelock (coach), Blaine Trujillo, Stephen Albritton, Tanner Graham, Isaac Juarez, Zach Rubin and Miguel Lopez. In back are (from left) Manny Hernandez, Fritz Hieb and Brian Arko.

 

"Tens" rugby features 10 players rather than the traditional 15, with 10-minute halves substituting for the orthodox 40-minute stanzas. The tens format allows both women's and men's tournaments to run simultaneously.

Tech got their fall season under way under sunny skies as they squared off with University of Texas at El Paso at 9:30 a.m. The first seven minutes went scoreless as both teams worked out the jitters of their first live action after the summer break. The ice was broken when Tech prop Stephen Albritton secured ball possession in a lineout and started a passing movement that saw second-year man Tanner Graham power into the try zone for a five-point try. Javier Koerdell's conversion kick was good for a 7-0 lead that held to halftime's one-minute break.

Graham added a second try in the second half to complete an attack started by 6'6" team co-captain Fritz Hieb. Koerdell added the conversion and all the points UTEP could muster came in the match's final minute, giving Tech a 14-5 victory.

Tech got untracked in a big way in their noon match with New Mexico State University's Chiles, scoring five long-distance tries to NMSU’s none in an exciting display of support running and passing. Dotting down tries were co-captain John Mark Stiles, halfback Brian Arko (with two), center Javier Koerdell, and second-year wing Geno Palermo. Four successful try conversion kicks by Koerdell made the final score 33-0.

Tech couldn't sustain the pace in a 3 p.m. game against the University of New Mexico's B side, where they struggled with the young Lobos' aggressive play and mistakes caused by their own over-eagerness. The Pygmies got the job done, however, through tries by veteran forward Blaine Trujillo, Albritton, and Stiles. Brian Arko hit two of three two-point conversions to secure Tech's second shutout in a 21-0 win.

The semifinal match featuring New Mexico Tech and Albuquerque's Brujos started with Koerdell kicking off at 5 p.m. Tech alumnus Dustin Webb, deputized to fill in for the injured all-rounder Blaine Trujillo, chased brilliantly to catch the ball and nearly scored before being tackled into touch (out of bounds) near the men's team's line. Tech got the ball back from the resultant lineout throw and Stiles, playing as the first back in the line, shot through a gap in the defense and dove into the try zone to stun the veteran team. Tech led 5-0 after Koerdell's kick strayed outside the posts.

The Brujos answered two minutes later with an impressively-worked try and the game was truly on. Javier Koerdell converted his own try after Stiles's accurate passing and Graham's powerful running opened the defense, restoring Tech's lead at 12-5. Once again the Brujos answered with a try, this one converted, for a 12-12 halftime draw.

The collegians' lack of experienced substitute players finally caught up with them in the second half as the Brujos put two more tries on a tiring Pygmy team. Saddened to lose, Tech's young ruggers had the consolation of knowing they had renewed the team's 40-year reputation for overachievement.

Santa Fe-born sophomore wing Geno Palermo was named Man of the Day by his teammates for punching far above his weight throughout the tournament.  Palermo and his teammates open the 15-man season at home on September 19 against the University of Texas of El Paso. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/New Mexico Tech Rugby Director