Vassar rugby teams rebound after losing top scorers

Only a week into the fall season, the Vassar College men’s and women’s rugby teams are already off to a positive start. Over his 22-year tenure, Coach Anthony Brown has led the women’s team to 20 winning seasons and the men’s side to 16 winning seasons.

Fresh off a conference win against Siena Col­lege, the women wasted no time picking up an­other victory against University of Albany on Saturday, Sept. 17. Guided by senior captains Mary Margaret McElduff, Nathalie Freeman and Mariah Ghant, the squad is looking as strong as ever. Returning 10 starters, the team displayed its dominance in a 70-5 win over Siena and a 31-12 win over the University of Albany.

Coach Brown is confident in both the team’s preparation and the captain’s leadership thus far.

“We are process-oriented so we want our play­ers to practice skills and tactics that will enable them to beat the better teams in the country that play Rugby at the Division II level,” Coach Brown expressed. “I think the seniors on the squad ex­pect to win the Conference and qualify for the Fall Final Four. They want to do well. Expectations are one thing, doing it involves a lot of hard work.”

These expectations for the season are not just coming from Coach Brown. Freeman has high hopes for her teammates’ play as well. She wants to improve upon the team’s fourth-place national finish and also fulfill her duty as captain.

“As a captain, I plan to lead by example, and also offer my guidance and assistance to all of the rookies and other less experienced players,” Free­man outlined. “I hope that my co-captains and I can help everyone to reach their full potential this season.”

Last season, Darienne Jones and Cierra Thom­as accounted for 335 points, contributing 34 and 33 tries respectively. Unfortunately for the Brewers, both women graduated. Taylor Nunley, another 2016 graduate, played a large role as well with 15 tries and 75 points during her final year.

Freeman mentions that a lot of people have stepped up to help make up for the loss of the team’s top scorers. “Junior Kayla Lightner has come in at 12 to replace Cierra Thomas, who grad­uated last year. Kayla has already done wonderful things on the field,” she articulated.

Despite handily defeating Albany, Coach Brown still sees room for improvement for the women’s side.

“The University at Albany was a tough physical challenge,” Coach Brown analyzed. “We did not tackle well and must improve in that area before we can even have expectations of playoffs.”

As long as the women’s team continues to keep firing on all cylinders as it has been these past two games, they will undoubtedly be well prepared for another successful season.

In the upcoming weeks, the women’s squad will play three consecutive games at home. On Saturday, Sept. 24, they will take on Hofstra Uni­versity, followed by Marist on Oct. 2, then later Stony Brook University on Oct. 9.

Like the women, the Vassar men’s rugby team is already showing promising skill after defeating Monroe College and Bard University.

“We will just focus on getting a basic set of skills that will allow us to play the game with pur­pose and give us the best chance to win,” reflected Coach Brown after the two victories.

The men’s captains this year are juniors George Sheppard and Joseph Simon, as well as senior Sea­mus Taylor. While the team has capable leaders, only four starters and 13 players in total returned.

Graduates John Loree and Eli Vargas are diffi­cult shoes to fill as they each scored eight tries, 80 points collectively.

To make up for this loss, 19 freshmen have been added to the roster, two of which, Evan Roberts and Rob Eder, have snatched starting spots at hooker and No. 8.

Taylor is confident in this year’s squad, despite the loss of key players who graduated last year. “We’ve already filled in many of those spots with some exceptional rookie talent. That may give us a short-term knowledge deficit, but everyone is learning quickly and we’re already evolving into a competitive side,” Taylor mentioned.

In the men’s first game against Monroe College, they pulled through with a 45-7 victory, following a very close first half. Coach Brown noted that the team has “a lot of work to do this fall” since in the first half, the score was 12-7 and this was Monroe’s first rugby game ever.

However, the team was able to pull through in the second half after Simon, sophomore Charlie Hooghkirk and Taylor each scored. In the second half, Vassar took advantage of Monroe’s inexperi­ence and accumulation of penalties. These weak­nesses allowed the Brewers to hold the Mustangs scoreless for the remainder of the game.

“Grabbing a win against Monroe in week one was huge for team morale. We have a lot of rook­ies on the team this year and it’s great to have some early victories to celebrate and learn from,” Taylor articulated. “However, we missed a num­ber of big tackles in that game and were really tested at times by a hard-hitting Monroe side, so we’ve been working on fundamentals and phys­icality.”

It is clear that working on the fundamentals and physical aspects while getting ready for Bard paid off, as the men’s team was able to add anoth­er victory on Sunday, Sept. 18.

Taylor attributes these early victories to the team’s cohesion on and off the field. In addition to a talented roster, Taylor believes that the Brewers’ unity will prove very beneficial for them the rest of the season.

“I can promise that it will take a team-oriented effort of buying in and buckling down for VC to devastate opponents this year,” Taylor continued. “Can we do it? Absolutely. We just have to take it week by week. With a competitive Drew side coming up in week three, everyone has to bring their A game.” With this team-oriented attitude, it is no wonder Taylor was chosen to be one of the captains for his senior season.

While the men are a young squad, the talent and unity of the team will bode for a victorious upcoming season.

Vassar will play Drew University on Saturday, Sept. 25. After that contest, the Brewers will face off at home against Maritime College on Sunday, Oct. 2 and Oneonta on Sunday, Oct. 9.

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