The Glendale Merlins Rugby – Mid-Season Update
Glendale, Colorado has unarguably been the epicenter of rugby in the United States for the last decade, with Infinity Park hosting domestic and international players and teams at the highest level. Beginning in 2018, the Men’s Elite Glendale Raptors enter Major League Rugby as a founding member team of the new professional organization. As a result, the remaining, robust amateur teams in Glendale have begun and will continue to play under the Glendale Merlins moniker. Merlins teams will include the Women’s Premier League and Division 1 teams, the Division 1 and Division 2 Men’s teams, and Glendale’s new Under-20 team. The Merlins were unveiled at a home-opener on September 9 – an auspicious date for Glendale as it also marked the tenth anniversary of the opening of Infinity Park.
Photo by Seth McConnell
What’s in a name? In the case of the Merlins, quite a lot. The Merlins teams are still playing some of the most competitive rugby in the nation. The 2017 fall headliner is the Women’s Premier League team, consisting of some of the same players and talent that made up the back-to-back National Championship winning Raptors teams in 2014 and 2015. Women’s Head Coach Kitt Ruiz says that she and the players have truly embraced the name change and are excited about the new mascot. Asked about the ongoing Fall season, she remarked: “There’s a lot of carryover from last spring and even fall of 2016. I’m very excited about our returning group of players as well as the new folks that have come on board. Every match is a challenge, but we have a great team with a lot of heart – I’m excited to see how we continue to grow.” Men’s and Women’s D1 teams, the Men’s D2 and U20’s teams serve as amateur development squads – a new and necessary addition to address the scores of talented players coming to Glendale to play rugby.
With the Fall season currently underway, the highest-level Women’s Merlins play in USA Rugby’s Women’s Premier League, which features eight regular season matches and two playoff games, concluding in mid-November. Undefeated through mid-October in regular season play, the WPL Merlins look to make a strong push for another championship bid. The Division 1 Women’s team is also playing a Fall season in the Frontier league, as are the D2 Men. The Men’s Division 1 team will begin its season in January, competing in the Red River Conference. The new U20 team is playing an open Fall schedule against local universities. In total, The Merlins have six adult teams made up of over 200 members. All aspects of rugby programming in Glendale remain the responsibility of the Director of Rugby, Mark Bullock.
Photo by Seth McConnell
As the newest part of the Merlins programming, the U20 team is garnering special excitement from coaching staff and fans. Designed to provide a rugby platform for young men who have graduated high school but do not have the opportunity to play college rugby, the program has the secondary benefit of requiring participants to either work or enroll in college or vocational classes. Like much of the Merlins’ Divisional programming, the U20 team will serve as another part of the rugby pathway in Glendale – a developmental system designed to improve players’ performance as they progress to higher levels of competition. Developmental specialist Luke Gross works with all of the Merlins Men’s teams, including the U20 team, assisting coaches and focusing on player development. Asked about the Merlins’ name change, Gross said simply: “The players and coaches are excited about it. We’re always excited to play rugby in Glendale.” During the ongoing fall season Gross is bringing players and coaches on the Men’s D2 team up to speed, and will transition to the Head Coach position of the Division 1 team when their Spring season begins after the first of the year.
Long the home of rugby in the United States, Glendale remains the face of the sport in this country. As the Raptors transition into their professional role in the announced Major League Rugby organization, the Glendale Merlins will shoulder the high-level club rugby play that has made Glendale the American pinnacle of the sport for the last decade. Together, the Merlins and Raptors will continue to generate excitement in Infinity Park’s stands for decades to come.