Rugby around Infinity Park looks much different in December than it did in January.
After a quiet year of rugby in 2020, the sport returned to Glendale in 2021 in the form of a new experiment.
The Colorado XOs was launched in January after a three-day camp in November of 2020 helped introduce 30 elite athletes from football, basketball, track & field, and wrestling backgrounds to the game of rugby.
This team composed almost entirely of crossover athletes tallied a 5-5 record over the course of their 10-match spring season. What was more impressive than the record that they posted was the number of opportunities that were created in just a few short months. After the spring season, six players – Ma’ake Muti, Gelen Robinson, Shawn Clark, David Still, Max Dacey, and Kaleb Geiger – all signed with Major League Rugby sides for the remainder of the 2021 season. Of those six players, only Muti and Dacey had rugby experience prior to joining the XOs. On top of that, Colorado XO team captain Michael Bandy used rugby as a way to stay in shape for a football opportunity and landed a practice squad spot on the Los Angeles Chargers as a result.
Summer flew by in the blink of an eye, and before we knew it August and the inaugural RugbyTown 7s tournament were upon us. In what was their first sevens action, the Colorado XOs were on the receiving end of big losses to the Ramblin’ Jesters and Team Germany on the first day of the tournament. They righted the ship with a 29-17 win over Barbados 7s, but closed the tournament with a 19-12 nail biting loss to the North American Lions.
September saw the XOs return to the Raptors brand that is synonymous with Glendale rugby as the American Raptors were born.
The new look Raptors hit the ground running with a fall season that consisted of five matches at Infinity Park, a spot in Aspen Ruggerfest, and two matches in Montevideo, Uruguay in November.
The Raptors went 4-1 in the matches that they played at Infinity Park, took second place after going 3-2 at Aspen Ruggerfest, and split a two-match series against Uruguay A in Montevideo. The Raptors beat Uruguay A 68-27 and fell 32-29 to the same side a few days later.
While the record improved from the spring, the feather in the cap of the program remains the development of players that go on to do bigger and better things. David Still and Shawn Clark competed in the RugbyTown 7s with the USA U23s and played so well that they were invited to join the Men’s Sevens Eagles at their fall camp a few weeks later. Still made the team and scored a few tries at the two HSBC Sevens Series stops in Edmonton and Toronto in September.
Campbell Johnstone, Tommy Madaras, Sam Phillips, and Kaleb Geiger have already signed Major League Rugby deals for 2022, and there are several other players that will certainly be on the move as the season approaches and the Raptors reload for another jam-packed year.
Infinity Park was pushed to its limits in 2021 as this one team utilized Infinity Park to its full ability while the rest of the events that happen at the park year after year still took place as planned.
That includes four USA Rugby test matches – two men’s and two women’s – a full slate of Glendale Youth Rugby programs that took place periodically throughout the year, five Monday Movie Nights, and three brand new concerts in the park, a Throwdown Showdown talent competition, and five high school graduations that took place in the spring.
The packed schedule was a nice change of pace after a sleepy 2020, and after everything that 2021 threw its way Infinity Park is ready for 2022!