Glendale Coaches Corner

Glendale Merlins Rugby

Merlins Look to First Home Match of the Season against San Francisco Golden Gate

by | Feb 22, 2019 | Coaches Corner

As told by Head Coach Luke Gross

Coaches Blog, Glendale Rugby Date 2.21.19, Glendale’s High Altitude Training Center

So it shouldn’t be any surprise that we aren’t ecstatic with our 2019 PRP season’s start. We’ve gone 0-3 in the first three matches of our return to the Pacific Rugby Premiership and we are currently at the bottom of the standings, just behind another winless team, San Francisco Golden Gate (SFGG).


Photo by Justin Purdy

However, I have to be honest, I’m not actually that disappointed with our team’s performance thus far. We are continually getting better, which is ultimately one of the most important factors for me when judging success. In fact, the last two games could have gone either way and when you consider we played 60 minutes of last week’s match down a player, it makes you wonder just how different that outcome would have been if we would have had a full side.

As I wrote in my last blog, our team has a lot of hard working and talented guys coming in from three various levels of our rugby club – our Raptors professional team, our U-23 Academy side and of course our Division 1 player pool. Our goal for this team is not only to win, but to develop several players for the MLR. To keep both of these goals in mind, however, has proven a difficult balance, not just for the coaching staff, but the team. As any successful team knows, you really have to have team buy-in and a bond between players that you can’t fabricate over night. There has to be a level of trust, especially in rugby, that everyone on that field has your back, and I’m so grateful to see this team really starting to bond.

Sure, we have had a couple tough losses, but now we look for our first win at home against San Francisco – on Infinity Park’s turf field – on Saturday, Feb. 23. Regardless of the final score, I can promise a very physical match featuring players, on both sides, that have a lot to prove. So carve out a bit of time this Saturday (kickoff is at 1 p.m.) to bring the family over to Glendale and cheer our local team on! The weather is promising, the game is free and the action will be intense.

Following the match, make sure you find a nice warm place to take in some more rugby and watch our MLR side take on the Warriors in Utah at 7 p.m., on ESPN+.

Merlins Starters

  1. Stephen Karas, born and raised in the Denver metro area, he went to high school at Ponderosa in Parker, but started playing rugby at Chaparral High School in 2009. He went on to play at Colorado State University and was a Collegiate All-American his senior year. At 6’1” and 230, Steve joined the Glendale side this fall after returning to Denver following two seasons, playing rugby for the Prebbleton Penguins in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  2. William Lavakeiaho, goes by Ami, he is among the most recent Raptors Academy recruits, sent to us by Rob Holder, Director of Spearhead Rugby Academy. At just 20 years old, Ami was molded by one of the best rugby minds in Minnesota. Holder saw his potential and sent him here with hopes of making the MLR.
  3. Moses Saole, at age 19, he has been practicing with the Raptors Academy since late summer. Picking up rugby in the eighth grade, he has been primed for this moment by his H.S. coach Amy Rusert, who coached him at the Palmer Terrors. He’s 6’2” and 265 lbs., which gives you an idea of what kind of size this young player brings to our pack.
  4. Joshua Gihring, another young Colorado Springs native, Josh played four years at Colorado Springs H.S. and then spent the next two years at Point Loma Nazarene University, before heading out to NZ and playing a stint there. He returned in 2018, and started playing with the Glendale Raptors Academy in the spring.
  5. Nate Shipley, born in San Diego, but raised in Niwot, Colo., Nate has been playing rugby since he was 12 years old, playing first with Boulder and then after high school while attending California Polytechnic State University. He also played football for Cal Poly for three years, as well. Most recently he spent a year abroad playing for the Tamworth Pirates in New South Wales, Australia, before returning to Colorado to play for Glendale.
  6. Justin Oles, At 5’10”, 215 lbs, this 21-year-old Las Vegas native, was last playing for the Las Vegas Irish when he was recruited by Mark Bullock to start playing rugby for our Raptors Academy. His first tournament for Glendale was up in Aspen, where he really showed his merit.
  7. Alex Fitch, A Colorado-native, Fitch started playing rugby his senior year of high school. Now, at 24 years old, his hard work and attitude is contagious and is a building block for this team’s success. He’s 5’10, 220, but when he plays, you would swear he’s 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than he actually is. Rugby has become a family sport, as his sister was named a USA Rugby All-American, as well.
  8. Devin Vaughter, with a full head of curly red locks, Devin is easily recognizable on and off the pitch. But just because he has the best hair on the team, don’t underestimate his grit and determination. He was first invited to play in a men’s match when he was just 16 years old, a sporting experience that changed his life. He’s played summer rugby with Vail RFC since moving out to Colorado in 2012 and has played with Glendale since 2015, even making several appearances for the Raptors in their inaugural season in the MLR. Coincidently, he’s not the only Vaughter who’s gone pro, his father, Eric Vaughter, was a professional goalkeeper in the 80s.
  9. Tevita Makasini, another product of the Spearhead Rugby Academy, Vita, has grown up throwing a rugby ball and it shows. Moving to the U.S., with his family in 2015, he is determined to continue pushing himself to the next level of the game, which, of course, is why his coach Rob Holder sent him here to Glendale, to show the professional side that he’s got what it takes.
  10. Colin Gregory, Straight out of Clemson, Colin moved out to Colorado after his graduation and played summer rugby with Vail. He caught the eye of David Williams and has been training with the Raptors ever since. Trained by Steve Lynch, Colin is a real team player, with speed and great vision. Also, a great looking moustache.
  11. Zach Rademacher, A member of the Raptors Academy since its inception, Rademacher, at just 20 years old is probably considered one of the veterans of this young Academy program. Born and raised in Spokane, Zach and his younger brother Isaiah consider Glendale their home and other than work, spend their time eating, sleeping and dreaming about rugby. Owing to his speed, Zach also plays a mad-7s game, taking a bit of time off from Glendale in the summer to play with the Denver Barbos 7s side.
  12. Clint Cook, As the second ‘Cookie’ in our Glendale outfit, Clint has made a name for himself as an extremely hard worker, both on and off the field. First stepping on the rugby pitch in 2013 at Colorado Mesa University, he has proven himself one of the most physical and hard-nosed players on this Glendale team. Interestingly enough, you can now call him Dr. Cook, as he has recently finished his Doctorate of Occupational Therapy.
  13. Siale Maka, Another player who started with the Raptors Academy, Siale was born in Hawaii, but moved to Aurora, Colo., at a young age. He played for the Aurora Saracens in H.S. and has been training with the Raptors for two seasons now. This fall, Siale saw quite a bit of match time, proving to be a very powerful runner with great off-load ability. At 6’3”, 225 lbs. the 22-year-old is a force both in 7s and in 15s.
  14. Ryan Chavkin, has a similar story to many who grew up in the Denver Metro. He started playing rugby in H.S. for East and then went to college in California, playing rugby for Santa Clara University before moving back to Colorado and making Glendale his home club.
  15. Sam Enari, came to Glendale in 2016. He started playing rugby in H.S. for Bloomington and then played four years at Indiana University. He spent some time playing abroad, as well, playing for a short time in both Australia and New Zealand before coming back to the states to play for Houston. Rugby is also in Enari’s blood, as his father played for Manu Samoa.

Merlins Finishers

  1. Fehoko Fanaika, goes by Hoko, was a product of the Glendale Merlins Selects camp we held in lead-up to Aspen Ruggerfest. A beast at 6’6 and 300 lbs., Hoko was a product of LSU Football and has now transitioned to rugby after Glendale’s crossover camp. He scored his first try in Aspen and the rest is history!
  2. Scott Smith, At 6’0” 235 lbs, this prop started playing rugby in college, just north of Chicago at Lake Forest College. He stayed around Chicago, playing with the Blaze after graduation, but eventually packed up to move back West and has been playing with Glendale ever since.
  3. Joseph Kamara, born in Liberia, but raised in Colorado, Joe is another player to be sent to us this past season by Coach Amy Rusert down in the Springs. Starting rugby in middle school, he joined the Palmer Terrors in 2014 before playing for a short stint with Colorado Mesa. He has now been training with our Raptors Academy program since the fall and has also been attending Metropolitan State University in Denver.
  4. Alex Wormer, another player that commits to a lengthy commute to play in Rugby Town, Alex was born in Atlanta, but grew up in Evergreen. He started playing rugby at 12 years old and went on to play PAC Rugby (High School) 2011-2014. He went also went on to play at Cal Poly, before moving back to Colorado for good, making the Glendale Merlins his rugby home.
  5. Trevor Wilder, born and raised in New York, this 25-year-old scrumhalf was actually a two sport athlete in college, swimming and playing rugby at Buffalo State College. He currently makes the commute from Boulder, Colo., to play with the Glendale side.
  6. Alex Walsh, born and raised in England, Alex started playing rugby when he was six. When he moved to the States, he started playing rugby for Santa Monica before attending Arizona State University in 2014. He graduated in 2018 with a degree in public service and policy and moved out to Colorado shortly thereafter to train with the Raptors this past fall.
  7. Tyler Nawrocki, was another player to come out of the Merlins Selects camp held this fall. Rocki has played rugby since he was 13; playing for the Land Park Motley rugby team, in Sacramento. Now over a decade later, he has finally selected Glendale as his team. This all-around athlete also played water polo, wrestled and continues to do a lot of lifting.
  8. Jermaine Huddleston, came to the Glendale Rugby Club during the Merlins Selects camp earlier this fall. Jermaine came out of Indiana, picking up rugby at age 18, but also making a huge impact at Fishers High School in football. At 5’8”, 200 lbs., this 21-year-old Academy player has proven hands and speed, doing exactly what he needs to on the wing.