Last fall witnessed one of the most heartbreaking ends to a Vassar women’s rugby season ever. After a challenging and well-fought battle, the Brewers were winning against Kutztown University. However, in the last minute and the last play of the game Kutztown managed to squeeze out one more try, and took the victory with a score of 22-20. None of the lady ruggers who were around last year will forget the heartbreak and disappointment from losing that one game that would have taken them to the Final 4.
But the lady ruggers are back with an undefeatable attitude and they want that win more than ever. Senior captains Cierra Thomas, Darienne Jones and Taylor Nunley are all hopeful for this fall season, looking to conclude it in the Final 4 in Florida like they did in 2013. In the fall of 2013, the Brewers lost in the semifinals against Notre Dame College (OH), and ended up ranking 3rd in the nation for Division II. Jones’ expectations for the season are quite high. She explained, “Our goal is to go to Nationals, make it to Final Four and then make it to the finals.” Similarly, Junior flyhalf Mary-Margaret McElduff said, ”I expect to win the conference but I would really like us to go to the Final 4 in Florida again.“ In regards to winning Nationals, captain Taylor Nunley explained, “After seeing the ever-rising levels of talent, effort, and energy among the team, I wouldn’t put it past us at all.” Junior flanker Nathalie Freeman stated, “My expectation for the team is that we go to Nationals and I wouldn’t be surprised if we placed in the top four.” It seems like everyone is determined to go back to Florida and win it all this year.
The Brewers have been preparing for this upcoming season since the end of last fall. During the spring, the women also had a competitive season with out-of-league games. In the spring, coach Tony Brown likes to phase out the seniors and move around some positions to practice for the upcoming, more competitive fall season. Captain Darienne Jones explained, “Last spring we finished well, it gave us some insight for what this season would look like.” McElduff added, “We need more time to mesh together as a team with people in new positions.” Last fall, McElduff started to play the important position of flyhalf, who often distributes the ball in offensive plays. Now that she’s more used to the position, she feels she has improved a lot at distributing the ball and reading the defense. Freeman, who plays flanker and sometimes hooker, has improved at poaching the ball and at getting low in the rucks, which are important skills when you’re a forward.
The women ruggers’ off-season summer training consisted of a lot of running and lifting. Jones said, “[I wanted to make] sure my muscles would not be surprised by anything when I came back to Vassar.” After all, rugby is a contact-heavy sport. Furthermore, in the winter, the ruggers have weekly game screenings, where they watch either professional women’s rugby games, or their own past games, so they can learn from their mistakes and triumphs.
Jones was hopeful of the team’s offensive tactics, stating, “everyone on the team is very strong offensively.” However, she also divulged, “As a team we still have a lot more to work on. We all need that aggressive confidence that I hope to instill.” Jones added, “We struggle with physicality every year and I just want to get rid of it completely so our team can focus on being superb offensively and never afraid to make a tackle.” Freeman said that they’ve incorporated new drills in practice to make the team more physical. To be successful in rugby requires a lot of confidence, aggression and physicality.
Nunley opened up about her personal goals for the year: “[I hope] to be better than I was last season in every sense of the word—stronger, faster, more aggressive.” Freeman added, “I just want to keep improving every day. I would love to make better tackles and score more tries, but my real goal is just to make fewer mistakes every game and become a more proficient player.” For Jones, a personal goal this season was to make a lot of more big hits. “I just want to deck people more often in games. Eventually my goal is by the end of the first half, the whole entire opposing team doesn’t want to touch or be touched by me,” she explained.
The women ruggers lost nine seniors from last year. It’s difficult to replace such talent, skill and experience, especially as the majority of rookies have never played rugby before. But in the recent years, the women have been very strong in recruiting new players. According to Freeman, the team has 14 rookies this year. Taylor Nunley added hopefully, “I am continually impressed by how well our rookies have been doing this season, granted a few more of them than usual have played rugby before coming to Vassar. They have improved so much in the past few weeks alone. It’s inspiring.”
The women have begun their season with two blowout victories over Stony Brook University and Fairfield University at 55-5 and 81-0 respectively. They downed the Seawolves behind three tries from Thomas and beat the Stags handily in a game that saw many young players get some time.
Last year’s record was 16-3, and impressive feat to beat. But these ladies have the fierce determination that can take them all the way to the top. Jones is very hopeful for the upcoming season and the team atmosphere in general, stating, “Our team is uplifting, I feel that everyone has made improvements and can tell, so as of now the atmosphere is very hopeful.”