After suffering a hard loss against Marist College 0-53 early in the semester, the women’s rugby team at Vassar College sought to fight back and perform well in the season. They recently ended their regular season after winning a spot in the Final Four to be held in Florida on December 7. The team ended up with a strong record of ten wins compared to two loses, and looks to continue their success at the finals.
The loss against Marist did not shake the team, according to senior Rachel Thompson. It only drove them to perform even better. “We started out slow, with a huge loss to one of our big rivals. That was a wake-up call for us,” explained Thompson in an emailed statement. “We knew we had to step up our game if we wanted to play at a national level. After that first loss, we got back to the basics of rucking and tackling. We spend the majority of our time at practice doing those drills, and it started paying off almost immediately as we started keeping possession of the ball for the majority of the games — that really disheartens the teams we play, and makes it difficult for them to score.”
Head Coach Tony Brown echoed the sentiments of Thompson. “The Marist game was the second game of the year and we were not really experienced enough to compete well and coupled with some poor performances we were crushed,” wrote Brown. Yet the team has improved vastly in his opinion. “We have become more comfortable with our systems and pressured opponents into mistakes. Our big realization moment was when we beat Marist in the playoffs. The players realized that they could compete.”
Brown has been the Head Coach of the rugby team since 1995, and was the first full time Head Coach in the programs history. He is joined on the coaching staff by Assistant Coach Mark Griffiths, who has been a part of the Vassar community for the last 12 years. Thompson stressed the importance of the coaches in terms of the team’s success. “The coaches are unquestionably important,” Thompson expressed. “We would be nowhere if we didn’t have them. It’s so important to have someone who knows the game watching us play and being able to tell us where we need to improve. During games, they always know when we need a little criticism or revving up.”
Senior player Dallas Robinson added, saying “Mark and Tony are really knowledgeable about the sport. I think that the team often does not realize how the drills we run in practice make our play so sharp. With Mark being a former professional and Tony being a player since his ‘school boy’ days, there is no question that they know what they are doing when teaching us our sets.”
Vassar rugby is a unique sport on campus in that it is one of the few sports that does not require any background in the sport in order to join. Many of the teammates joined the rugby team for various reasons. “I wanted to continue playing sports in college and became interested in rugby after meeting girls that played here my freshman year,” described junior Margaret Kwateng. “I was scared at most of the practices and in most the games for a while but in the end I grew to love the game. It’s amazing how many different types of people can play this sport and the quick decision making, aggression, and not-yet-developed bad habits played to my strengths as an athlete. The team has some of the most friendly, fun, and overall driven girls at the school and it was a great group to join as a freshman.”
Kwateng’s story resonates with a lot of the players. “I was supposed to run cross country and track here, but at the all-athletics meeting I found myself surrounded by a group of rugby seniors,” explained freshman Nathalie Freeman. “They made rugby seem so inviting and fun that I decided to talk to the coach and just sit in on a practice. After that first day I knew that rugby was what I wanted to play and the rugby team were the people who I wanted to be associated with. Every day I’m thankful that I made the decision to play Vassar Rugby because it has already made my freshman year something that I’ll never forget.”
In terms of the upcoming final four match, the team expressed their desire to win. “I’m nervous, of course, but I’m looking forward to it,” Kwateng expressed. “I can see the drive to win in just about every player on this team and it’s exciting because I have confidence that whatever happens we will be fighting until the end. It is going to be about doing all of the small things right consistently; we have the talent, we just need to show it when it counts.”