Women’s rugby suffers tough loss in national quarter finals

Junior center Cierra Thomas breaks through the defensive line of a recent opponent. Her strong running and aggressive tackling skills helped a successful women’s rugby team reach the quarterfinals. Photo By: Vassar Athletics
Junior center Cierra Thomas breaks through the defensive line of a recent opponent. Her strong running and aggressive tackling skills helped a successful women’s rugby team reach the quarterfinals. Photo By: Vassar Athletics
Junior center Cierra Thomas breaks through the defensive line of a recent opponent. Her strong running and aggressive tackling skills helped a successful women’s rugby team reach the quarterfinals. Photo By: Vassar Athletics

This weekend saw the end of Vassar Women’s Rugby run at the National title for Division II rugby. The Brewers ended their season with a 9-3 record. After defeating University of Vermont on Saturday, the Brewers were set to face off against Kutztown. In a grueling match that was decided in the last minute, Kutztown won the day with a narrow win of 22-20. This is the second year that Vassar has made it into the final eight teams vying for the National Division II title.

Thinking back on the only teams to overcome the Brewers this season, Coach Tony Brown wrote in an emailed statement, “The Women’s team lost to two teams this Fall—Rutgers & Kutztown—and there was very little to choose between these teams and Vassar.” With regard to Brown’s thoughts about this season, and the potential of the team going forward, he stated, “The Vassar Women have had 19 winning seasons in the past 20 years and this was yet another good season. We have a wonderful group of freshmen who have an expectation to get to this point again and they will not want to experience the sadness of defeat as was the case Sunday. Hopefully, they will work hard and give themselves the opportunity.”

The emphasis on hard work is something that this team understands  well. Captain and senior Yael Schwartz was impressed by the work rate of her teammates this season, “The biggest strength of this team is both the individual and collective commitment of their time, bodies, and selves. The commitment to showing up to practice and give their all, putting their bodies on the line, in cold, wet and dark conditions,” she said. While Schwartz was impressed by her teammates’ work ethic, Senior Sophia Rutkin was quick to point out the trust that the team has for one another. In an emailed statement, Rutkin wrote, “We trust each other unconditionally. Rugby is an incredibly high contact sport, and it is impossible to commit one hundred percent unless you know the team has your back, this season and every other I have never once distrusted my team.”

Captain and senior Margaret Slattery also acknowledged the trust that is crucial for the team and went on to add in an emailed statement, “We are better coached than a lot of our opponents, and we have a pattern that is specifically designed to break down the defenses of teams we play keeping the strengths of our specific team in mind.” Coach Brown shared the same opinion, speaking of his assistant coach, Mark Griffith, Brown wrote, “The single biggest influence [this season] was the coaching of Mark Griffiths. His understanding of the game and recognition of each players’ qualities is second to none. Vassar Rugby, both men & women, would not be the respected force they are in the collegiate ranks without his guidance.” Griffith only coaches in the Fall, returning to his home in Wales for the rest of the year.

For many of the players on the team, tackling has been their biggest weakness. In thinking back on their loss over the weekend, junior Darienne Jones was impressed by the improvement that she, and the team as a whole had made in this area of their game. In an emailed statement, Jones wrote, “I can confidently say I have never hit so hard or as many times in my whole time playing rugby at Vassar. I believe the whole team felt the same way as well. This is rewarding because I felt that that was our struggle the entire year, was being as aggressive defensively as we were offensively.” Though the team did lose over the weekend Jones was confident that the team was headed for greater things next season. “It took us awhile to become this strong defensively so hopefully next year, even just next season, we as a team never forget the importance of that physicality and go in with that mentality every time for every game.”

Looking forward, all of the seniors were excited by the prospect of the team heading forward. Slattery singled out a few younger players on the team, “Cierra Thomas, who has always been a dangerous runner, really came into her own this year as well. She leads our team in points scored (75) and can always be counted on to make NFL quality hits when we really need them. Nathalie Freeman, Taylor Nunley, and Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild also stand out. These are all non-seniors, so that’s very exciting.” While Schwartz picked out even more, “Mary-Margaret McElduff in her first year in a new position learnt on the fly and looked comfortable within a couple games directing the back line…Nathalie Freeman is a nonstop source of energy, always there to make another strong run, hit another ruck, or make a dominant tackle.” It will be exciting to see how these players develop in the coming years, and the heights to which they will take the Brewers.

The team will be losing some of its most significant players come the end of this year. Chief among them are the two captains, whom Coach Brown has been very impressed with this season, “The leadership of Meg Slattery & Yael Schwartz has been exemplary and much of the team’s cohesion and success is attributive to them.” Rutkin, heaped praise on the two as well, “Our team chemistry is always very strong, but this year it was particularly so. For this, I give a great deal of credit to our captains for making sure that we have team events often, even after losses.” But all of the seniors will be missed, Schwartz, thinking about her fellow seniors, said, “Sophia Rutkin is always a very strong runner and has improved her tackling significantly…Kathleen Gould is a fiercely powerful woman who played through too many injuries, refusing to rest or stop for even a second.” The team next year will be hard pressed to live up to the expectations left by this season’s team.

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