With scores the like of 55-5, 63-0 and 81-0, it is safe to say that the Vassar women’s rugby team dominated their regular season play this fall. The Brewers finished the regular season with a record of 8-1, their only loss coming in a close bout to the New York Women’s Developmental XV, an experienced adult side.
After easily handling their first two playoff opponents, Molloy College and Marist College, by scores of 88-0 and 55-10 respectively, the women looked to a more challenging Tri-State Conference Final against Rutgers University. Last season, the women lost to Rutgers 38-15 in a tough contest. Going into this year’s rematch, the Brewers were eager and ready to face an opponent who was not only a “rival” of sorts, but who also would pose a challenge.
Shortly before the game, it became clear that Rutgers was starting a lineup consisting entirely of B-side, or second string, players. Head coach Tony Brown commented on the seemingly strange decision on the part of Rutgers: “It was a huge surprise and disappointment. We were expecting a really tough game. Neither the team, coaches or spectators realized until about 20 minutes into the game that Rutgers was not playing their starters! The women stayed focused and treated the game as a practice session.” The team certainly was focused, scoring 20 tries in a rout that saw them defeat Rutgers 118-0.
By nature of how the Tri-State Conference and its playoff bracket are set up, both Vassar and Rutgers had already guaranteed a spot in the Round of 32 in the Division II National Tournament. The New Jersey school is now placed in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Bracket rather than the Northeast. Regardless, it was never made explicitly clear to the coaches or players just exactly why Rutgers chose to play their B-side.
Junior forward Mariah Ghant added her insight, “I was sure that Rutgers, who has been our rivals for many years, would bring their all-stars out for this game. Regardless of if both our teams were advancing to the Round of 32 game this weekend, it was a pretty (for lack of a better word) weird choice by their coach to play an entire team of B-side players… Of course, I went on the field with the intention of playing at my best, and I know the rest of my teammates did as well; however, I think we put a little extra “oomph” in our game to make Rutgers think about their choice.”
Still, the lack of competition was disappointing as the team has been yearning for some stiffer competition this whole year. Rutgers only held the ball for a few minutes throughout the entire game. There were only four lineouts and even fewer scrums.
Senior captain Cierra Thomas commented on the team’s play throughout: “We were consistent with our pattern of play, we made very few errors and whenever we did have to make a tackle, it was no problem. We had the ball pretty much the entire game, so we used the opportunity to implement everything we’d been practicing this entire season into the game.”
Senior Anne Fritzson commented, “I didn’t understand the logic behind putting out a B-side and not telling us before-hand. Like Tony said, if he wanted to see which B-side players are good, we could have planned a B-side game too.” Fritzson added that while she was proud of her team’s efforts, she wished that they had been able to play some more defense as they had been working on it quite a bit over the course of last week’s practices. Thomas noted that Rutgers’ back line had been quick and dangerous in the past, making the need to come up quick as a defensive line and make strategic tackles extremely important.
Vassar now looks towards their match against the University of Delaware next weekend. Delaware finished third in their conference, yet their strength as a third place team is deceptive given the strength of the two teams that finished ahead of them. Coach Brown commented, “It’s hard to know the strength of other conferences but it’s single elimination now so mistakes have to be cut out. I would expect a team with a winning record that finished third in their conference which includes Kutztown and Bloomsburg to be a tough nut to crack.”
Just as they did for Rutgers, the women will look to a tough week of practice to prepare for next week’s match. Coach Brown noted that the team prepares the same way for all games, putting an emphasis on of ball placement, tackling and rucking. Still, players know that as the season gets later, the intensity will continue to rise.
Junior forward Lauren Workman added that much of the preparation is also mental. “After a while, physical practice can only take you so far. Getting in the right mindset before and during a game is more important than one might think. With the physicality of rugby, you have to constantly push yourself to make every tackle, almost continuously run, and to catch every ball thrown your way and these things must be done with the same intensity and energy as you started the game no matter how far into it you are…. [We’re] not only physically pushing ourselves in practice, but mentally pushing ourselves too.”
The Brewers seem ready as ever to take on tougher competition at the National level. They are eager to be tested and have been working hard all season to reach this stage. Ghant offered some final thoughts on what the team needs to do to be successful from here on out: “As we head towards the final rounds, I think our team just needs to focus on seizing every opportunity we get to have the ball. Playing rugby can be real easy when you have possession of the ball for the whole game. So keeping that in mind, we need all of our running, passing, and rucking to be seamless… I believe in our team so much, and I am really looking forward to more games in the season.”