This year, 54 Vassar Rugby players made the four-hour trip to Portsmouth, RI, for the 34th annual Beast of the East Tournament, the largest college rugby event in the country. Over 75 teams and between 1,7000 and 2,000 college rugby players spanning six divisions took to the field this weekend.
The Vassar men competed in the men’s Division III competition, originally being placed into a group with Central Connecticut State University and Massachusetts Maritime. Meanwhile, the women’s squad fielded two squads: the A-side team in the Division I bracket and the B-side team in the Division III bracket. The group games took place on Saturday, April 22 and the playoffs were held on Sunday.
Heading home with eight wins out of a total of 11 games, Vassar rugby smiled upon the weekend. “This weekend was a very successful one for the team. We competed at a high level with three physically imposing teams showing that we can not only play with structure, but also outmuscle teams bigger than ours. This semester has been about development for our main Fall season, and along with our tour to Barcelona, this weekend was a crucial stepping stone in preparation for next semester,” commented the men’s team junior captain George Sheppard.
To kick off the championships, the men took on Central Connecticut State. The Brewers led throughout the entire game off of tries by sophomore Charlie Hooghkirk and first-year Evan Roberts. Sophomore Stephen Kpundeh kicked both conversions in order to put the Brewers up 14-0 before CCSU began their attempted comeback. Ultimately, Vassar was able to hold off an incredibly athletic team, 14-7, in order to win their first game of the tourney.
Meanwhile, the women’s B-side team headed into competition. The squad earned two shutout wins against Brandeis University (59-0) and the University of New England (24-0). Against Brandeis, junior Kayla Lightner led the efforts with five tries, followed by two tries each from junior Claire Fondrie-Teitler and senior Lizzie Bennett. First-year Caroline James and sophomore Aja Dunn also each tallied one try apiece while Makena Emery ’19 contributed two conversions.
Senior captain Mary Margaret McElduff commented in an email, “I feel incredibly proud of all of the women who competed in Rhode Island this past weekend. The B side played their hearts out and gained some really meaningful experience with 3 important wins and a tough loss in the semifinals on Sunday.”
McElduff continued, “They were lucky to have a few upperclassmen with more rugby knowledge to set the patterns as well as a good example. Specifically, Ellen Quist, Lizzie Bennett, Claire Fondrie-Teitler, Megan de Konig, Andrea Ramsay and Kayla Lightner, but the whole squad gave it their all and it was so awesome to see how much they’ve learned already.”
Captain Mariah Grant ’17 echoed these sentiments, “Our men’s team and B-side squad also did some amazing work. I think their performances this weekend foreshadow a continuation of impressive wins for Vassar Rugby in the next years to come.”
Against New England, the Brewers continued to dominate. Emery was back at it again with two conversions while senior Ellen Quist scored two tries and first-year Kayla Vasquez and junior Andi Ramsay added a try each.
It was then time for the A-side team to show its prowess and finish with one incredibly high scoring shutout win for Vassar in the Division I league.
McElduff explained, “Coming back from a win in the division 2 bracket last year, we would have been expecting to take the title again. However, the tournament coordinators contacted our coach the week before the games and asked us to move up to the division 1 bracket, as a couple of teams dropped out.”
The Brewers took the field to demolish Northeastern University 62-0. Senior captain Mary Margaret McElduff was particularly impressive, tallying six conversions and scoring one try. Five more Brewers added tries to round out Vassar’s scoring: senior captain Nathalie Freeman (3), junior Abigail Alexander (2), sophomore Jennie To (1), sophomore Rachel Elson (2) and senior Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild (1).
n the last game of the day, the VC A-side topped the University of Massachusetts Amherst 36-5. Elson was back with two more tries, as Blumenthal-Rothchild, Ramsay and Alexander added one more each. Sophomore Oshana Reich also contributed one try. McElduff continued her impressive prowess with three more conversions.
To round out the day, the men headed into battle against Maritime—another physically imposing group—destined to give the more skillful, yet smaller Vassar men a run for their money.
For the second time that day, the Brewers were able to get on the board first as they went up by 10 points before the Buccaneers were able to score at all. Vassar’s points came at the hands of Roberts and first-year Theo Lewis Lawrence. Through the rest of the game, Maritime was able to battle back, scoring two tries to tie the game at 10. Despite drawing, both teams advanced to the championship bracket to be held on Saturday.
All three Brewer teams advanced to Sunday’s elimination play. Unfortunately, the men’s squad was unable to keep up with its opponent, Colby, and eventually fell in the quarterfinals 10-29. Hooghkirk put up a heroic effort, scoring two tries against the Mules.
Junior Caleb Zachary commented on the loss, “going into the quarterfinals, we knew Colby would be fast and athletic, and they didn’t disappoint. Though our forwards made excellent progress against them, whenever they could get the ball to their backs they were much quicker and were able to get around the edges to score several times in the first half. In the second half Vassar was much more disciplined and was able to score twice before the whistle blew, but the damage was already done.”
“While I was happy with how I played this weekend, I was even more happy with how the team played. We were presented with huge challenges and rose to the occasion with powerful, smart play, as well as good sportsmanship, despite some dicey situations in the games,” sophomore Louis Brown commented. “It was a collective effort from a great group of guys and a great group of friends who all helped one another stay ready for our games physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Following the elimination of the men’s squad, the Vassar B-side team took the field for the quarterfinal round against Southern Connecticut State University. Despite the low scoring nature of the march, Vassar ended on the victorious side with a 12-5 win. The Brewers reached the boards with one try each from Quist and James while Emery contributed two conversions.
With a quick turnaround, Vassar B-side headed into the semifinals against the University of Connecticut B-side. Although the Brewers fought hard, the Huskies ran away with a 20-7 win. Nevertheless, sophomore Meredith Leder scored a try while Emery tallied two conversions.
Then, it was finally time for the Division I semifinals, in which Vassar A-side took on the University of Rhode Island. Despite the strength of the Rhode Island squad, Vassar handily earned the 24-5 win. Elson led the scoring efforts with two tries, while Freeman and Reich tabbed one try apiece. Yet again, McElduff was successful in conversion attempts, tallying two in the match. With this win under their belts, the Brewers headed into the championships.
Regardless of a particularly rugby-packed weekend, Vassar showed no signs of fatigue in the finals. With points from senior Lauren Workman, Elson and McElduff, the Brewers bested the University of Connecticut 12-7 to become the Beast of the East Division I Champions! Elson and Workman each scored a try while McElduff added a conversion in addition to executing a penalty kick.
Captain Mariah Ghant ’17 reflected, “As a senior on the team, I was really excited to spend my last game at Beast of the East. It was so impressive to see everyone on the A-side team working incredibly hard to make this big win in the DI playoffs at the tournament.”
She added, “I think what was most crucial to our wins was the team being able to keep composure. We play best when have the ball in our possession, so we made sure that our defense was working extra hard to ensure this could happen. ”
Commenting on Vassar rugby’s performance as a whole, Wood stated, “I think the men’s team did pretty well. We definitely didn’t go as far in the tournament as we hoped, but we held our own against some tough teams. The women’s team did amazing though. The A team took first in Division I, and the B team came in second in Division III. It was awesome to watch the women totally out-compete much larger schools with very great programs. They really don’t get enough recognition for how successful they are.”
The Vassar rugby teams will compete in their season-closing games against Siena College on Sunday, April 30 at home. The Brewers’ season will then conclude with the annual alumni game held the following Saturday on Founder’s Day.