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The Rocky Mountain Rippers recently have capped-off off a successful summer in their first-year as a club program.
The Rippers are a small club that was formed from fallout from some of the other Utah club programs such as Team Utah, which coach Ryan Walton says he was “fortunate to have been a part of.”
Some of the coaches that are now involved with the club include: University of Utah LSM Chris Belcher, American Fork JV head coach Jason Matheney and Westlake varsity assistant coach Greg Larsen. Guest coaches have included: Maryland-midfielder Bubba Fairman, and Rutgers players Casey Rose, Garrett Michaeli, Garrett Bullet and Zack Franckowiak.
Walton and his fellow coaches took a group of 25 kids last year when they were rising freshman and told them they would help them improve their game for the next four years of high school. In order to focus on player development, they have kept the number of players at 25 kids. The coaches also went to the players and figured out what the goals of playing in college were for the players, and then sought to put them in some of the most highly-competitive and highly-visible tournaments available to help the players get recruited.
Those tournaments have included the Ski Town Shootout, held in Park City, as well as the Legends Lacrosse Western Invitational, and the Chicago Cup. Next year, Walton says the club is planning on teaming up with Legends Lacrosse to go to more national tournaments and events on the east coast.
The Rocky Mountain Rippers have participated in the top high school brackets in order to help the players build grit.
“That’s an environment we want to put them in,” said Walton. “It’s awesome, because our kids are smaller who are still growing in this game. To throw them in an environment where they have to play that well is just great.”
Moving forward, the club will strictly participate in the 2021 age group to help the players gain notoriety as the rising sophomores approach the period of being recruited by college coaches.
The Rippers even had three of their players participate in the Under Armour All-American Underclass games this summer.
Westlake defender Hunter Larson, Park City midfielder Kirby Baynes and Box Elder midfielder Brandyn “Chavo” Gaytan all participated in the tournament, representing the Rippers.
The club prides itself on its small size, according to Walton. The Rippers’ coach believes that the large clubs can hurt player commitment to the program, due to the fact that the kids are “fish[es] in a big pond.” The smaller group allows players to focus on getting better individually and as a team.
The team concept is incredibly important to the Rippers club as well.
“We don’t play selfish,” said Walton. “College coaches are looking for these standout players, but we’re looking to pass first and score second.”
Walton continued, “The standouts are only standouts because of their teammates. The players need to know that the strength of the team is much bigger than the strength of the individual.”
In a club-setting where each player is looking to set themselves apart from the other players surrounding them, this approach is not easy. However, Walton believes that a positive approach is the best solution, instead of one where coaches tear players down.
“If we can create an environment that challenges the players, but supports them through their mistakes not only from a coaches’ standpoint but a peers’ standpoint, then you get the buy-in. We have two rules every practice: you need to have fun, and you need to learn something,” said Walton.
Having such a small group that participates in the club is a critical aspect that then allows the coaches and players to effectively participate in service opportunities as well, said Walton. Everywhere the Rippers go for their tournaments, they participate in community service projects in those respective cities.
“We went to the Chicago Cup recently and worked in the Chicago Food Bank, just donating time and giving back to a cause as an organization, which is really cool,” said Walton. “We’ve done backpacks for kids in Ghana, we’ve done things for other kids in Africa such as creating medical kits, and then donations locally. We’re actually looking into starting a fundraiser branch to the program.”
Walton and the Rippers will continue to help Utah lacrosse on the map through their successes.