The New Mexico Highlands University Vatos are champions of the High Desert Classic.
It’s the first time in the rugby tournament’s 40-year history a collegiate team has won the men’s open division bracket, according to faculty adviser Dick Greene.
To achieve the title, the Vatos defeated Las Cruces 37-7, Albuquerque Brujos 31-22, the host Albuquerque Aardvarks 27-20 and previously undefeated El Paso in a 22-20 championship thriller this past weekend in Albuquerque.
The High Desert Classic is one of the more-anticipated rugby events of the fall schedule, hosted by the Albuquerque Aardvarks rugby club, one of the premier sides nationally and a national finalist two seasons prior.
The Vatos have competed in the Classic for a number of years, said team captain Adrian McDuff, who noted that the team won the event’s collegiate division in 2011.
But this year, the tournament organizers invited the Vatos to compete in the higher level of the men’s open division.
“We were flattered,” said Greene. “We welcomed the challenge.”
“At times it was some of the best and most passionate rugby I have ever seen in the 20 years of the Vatos,” Greene said. “I am proud of the club on this special day that they were the best team in the state and region, regardless of age, size and demographics.”
Senior Estevan Martinez of Mora was named Man of the Tournament for the Vatos, and Greene also credited strong efforts from McDuff, Joey Ivey, Ryan Means and Andrew Lavea.
“We were humble in victory and will be gracious in defeat,” Greene added. “Nevertheless, we will need to vastly improve our fitness and skills to reach our secondary goal of the national Final Four in Denver in June on ESPN. As always, our primary goal is to complete our university training and degrees and be good citizens.”
The Vatos (6-2) face New Mexico State at noon on Sunday at Perkins Stadium, then close the fall slate Nov. 13 in Santa Fe. The rugby will resume in the spring semester.