Vassar men’s rugby is back at it again, leveling foes and kicking up dust. Currently in the heart of their spring season, the team is waiting to receive word on their application for an at-large bid to Nationals on the strength of their dominant fall season. In the meantime, they have not been content to rest on their laurels but instead have scheduled a tough season with non-conference Division 1 opponents to prepare them for the potential championship bid and the end of season’s Beast of the East tournament.
In the period before spring break, rugby was grinding five days a week, with sessions focused on skill work, team lifts, track runs and film study. This “offseason” has been fruitful for the team facing stiffer competition and in enabling rookies to improve their game with their more experienced teammate, and has allowed them to offer stronger contributions in games.
Several rookies received their first start on A-side, moving up from B-side during the program’s spring break trip to Spain and have laid claim to a more permanent starting spot based on their success. Senior captain Joe Karpmann highlighted several newcomers in particular for their achievements. “[Freshman] Alan Hagins has done a remarkable job stepping into the fullback role for the A-side, and even though he looks raw, he has the potential to hold that position down for the next three years. Zach Rippe and Louis Khourey are freshman second rows have stepped into the A-side at times this spring. With some good work this offseason, they should also be able to grow into perennial starters. Roman Kopit is the old man of the team. Roman is the Hebrew language fellow, and was unable to play on the A-side in the fall due to league regulations. He has been able to play this spring and his play has shown great improvement.”
Spain itself, called “Tour,” was a magnificent experience for the program as a whole. Coach Tony Brown’s own international background and playing experience leads him to try and provide some taste of that to his current crop of students, and he has taken them to Ireland and Barbados in the recent past. Providing this incredible opportunity not only creates a close bond between those who make the trip, but it adds whole other levels of incentive to work hard and represent Vassar, as well as the country, abroad. Not every vassar student has the chance to go JYA. Rugby, however, offers student-atheltes a chance to travel the world and get a glimpse of life all over the world, teaching about global cultural aspects.
Karpmann reflected on his experience this trip, having traveled on each during his time at Vassar. “Spain [is]… always a wonderful experience to go play rugby in a different country. Wonderful place, beautiful country with great people. Tour always builds team camaraderie in an unbelievable way. It was also great to get a tour win [3/16 vs Hortazela], something the men haven’t done in many years. Tour also allowed our rookies to both bond and grow as rugby players.”
The season is coming to a close, with two more games left plus Beast of the East (and hopefully Nationals), including the Brewers hosting their conference rival Marist this Sunday at 11 a.m. and Albany on Saturday, April 27. Marist beat Vassar twice in the fall—Vassar’s only losses of the season—both by one try, and Marist’s win sent them, instead of the Brewers, to Nationals for the Tri-State Conference bid. To end the heated grudge match between the two teams, the rugby team will need to further improve itself and better integrate its injured players, like senior captain Ian Ruginski.
“After a series of injuries both this season and last to starting hooker [senior] Jehan Shams, [sophomore] Alex Voynow has really stepped up with his performance both at set piece and in the loose,” said Karpmann. “As scrumhalf [junior] Karl’s service and decision making have continued to improve. I’m looking forward to watching his performance next fall as well.”
Vassar has had an impressive run the past few years. This spring has presented new challenges for the team, but Karpmann believes the team is learning from them. “This spring has really tested the character of a team that has been used to winning and winning big the past few seasons. We continue to work our asses off at practice and improve every weekend. This team still has a hell of a lot of fight left and I expect big performances at Beast,” stated Karpmann. The veteran heavy squad has supplemented itself with up and coming underclassmen, but a strong crew of seniors-Zach Kent, Dan Flynn, Jerry Dieudonne, Alan Kenney, and Nic Placeres-will be making a strong push these last few weeks. “We owe Marist a good beat down after our playoff loss in the fall,” explained Karpmann. “The goal from the beginning has always been and always will be to win the Beast. I think we have the potential and ability to accomplish both of those things.”
Come to the farm on April 14 and 27 to enjoy the spring weather and support Vassar student-athletes in competing in one of the most physical and compelling sports in the world.