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Remembering a fallen Vato

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By The Staff

The Vatos rugby club will play in the 40th annual High Desert Classic Rugby tournament this Saturday and Sunday in Albuquerque at Bullhead Park. The Vatos have won the tournament five times but none recently.

Notably, the Vatos will enter both a college and a men’s side. The men’s team will have more than 25 NMHU alumni players from across the country. They have dedicated the tournament to their late Vato teammate and friend, Mike Esquibel, who died last January in a train accident in Las Vegas.

“It was a joy and honor to know Mike and enjoy the rugby with him,” said coach Mando Herrera. “He was a force. We are pleased to assemble this group of Highlands graduates who will have a run in his name. Mike would be happy. We miss him and his wonderful spirit. He was a rugby man, hard muscle, soft heart, and happy spirit, pure and simple. It will be a fine men’s team as many alumni are still playing the game at a high level. This is the beauty of rugby. It is a lifelong contact sport.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the free weekend tournament of more than 40 rugby teams. As always, there will be a Saturday night social and dance at the Jockey Club at the Downs in Albuquerque. Google High Desert Rugby for more information.

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The Division 3 Vatos (1-4) lost 22-0 to the Division 1 UNM Lobos (4-1) this past Saturday in Perkins Stadium. Adviser Dick Greene reported it was the first shutout in the NMHU club’s 18-year history.

“The mercurial and well-coached Lobos produced all their points in the first half and defended well against an improving young Vato team who needed 40 minutes to adapt to the fast pace of the game,” Greene said. “The Lobos have 40 players and a new full-time, paid Argentinean coach who has made them a solid pick for the regional and national playoffs next spring. Their only loss is to the highly ranked U.S. Air Force Academy.

“We enjoy the challenge of playing Division 1 teams, Nevertheless, many young Vatos still have years of start-stop American football and small-town hero in their sports physiology and mentality. They simply have not embraced the courage, speed, intelligence, and endurance that are required by rugby. We still are resting, watching and waiting instead of reacting, running and hitting. Although the fall season is considered a preseason in rugby, I am a bit disappointed in our current mental and physical fitness levels. This spring, every game will count toward a national title in late May. We have many good athletes, but not good rugby players on the squad. We can be a modest local team or, as historically, a good regional or national side. It is the player’s choice. Some of these young adults do not think they can do anything well and move beyond their village. If they commit and work hard, they can.”