Rugby powerhouse heads to Final Four championships

Senior Flanker Nathalie Freeman runs down the field in Sweet 16 match against Albany. After 34-5 win, the women’s rugby team will head to the Final Four against Davenport on Dec. 3. Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

Though the women’s rugby team defeated the University of Albany twice prior in the current season, the third win proved to be the charm for the Brewers. This past Sunday, as Vassar pulled away with a 34-5 win over the Great Danes at home, the Brewers secured a spot for themselves in the Final Four of the USA Rugby National Fall Championship.

The Brewers have dominated their scheduled games for this season, winning 11 out of 12 matches. Their one loss came against the Golden Rams of West Chester University in the midst of October. But the players did not allow this defeat to atrophy their determination and fortitude. They instead restarted their winning streak, accumulating another mass of victories.

Within these 11 successful games, Vassar has held their opposing team scoreless on four different occasions. Moreover, with the exception of the match against West Chester, the crew has not allowed a team to score over 12 points on any single occasion.

Though the team graduated seven seniors from last season, the experience that the team retains is helping them to offset the loss of these players. “The entire team has compensated amazingly for losing seniors and having several important players off the roster due to injury,” explained sophomore fullback Rachel Elson. “We have worked extremely hard to fix our weak spots and improve the bigger aspects of our game.”

In spite of the graduated seniors, the team maintains eight sophomores, 12 juniors and nine seniors. These players continue to provide masses of skill and game comprehension to the team’s winning efforts. “We still have a lot of experience on our team. Four of our current seniors have played in the Final Four when we were freshmen,” recalled senior flanker Nathalie Freeman. “With such a large number of upperclassmen starters, I feel confident in our knowledge and ability.”

Although their experience and grit have certainly propelled them towards success this season, Head Coach Anthony Brown and his players recognize their shortcomings. Moving forward into the intense stages of the championships, they will focus on strengthening and solidifying their defensive efforts. “The team must produce much better defense,” acknowledged Coach Brown. “We need to get organized more quickly, come up with good line speed and tackle. All players need to not only make solid tackles, but also go forward in the tackle.”

Continuing in these playoff games, the Brewers will encounter difficulty while attempting to beat opponents without minimizing this porousness. Since pinpointing this weakness, the players have exerted significant energy to improve this aspect of their game. “We have worked really hard this season to organize a better defensive line and to come up quickly when the opposition brings the ball out of the ruck,” Elson explained.

Improving upon these faults, Vassar dominated the game against the University of Albany in the Sweet 16 of the championships. Winning the match 34-5, the Brewers secured advancement to the Final Four.

While the points scored by the Great Danes remained low, the team brought an intense, competitive game to the Vassar Farm. Although snow was covering the ground, the Brewers showed up to the match eager to take home a win. The first try of the game was scored by Vassar’s senior prop Mariah Ghant, which was almost immediately returned by Albany, but was narrowly avoided with crucial tackles and a turnover.

As the match continued, multiple players racked up points for the Brewers. The try earned by Ghant was accompanied with two successful tries by senior center Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild. Elson, Freeman and sophomore Kate Sworden each contributed one try as well, while senior flyhalf Mary-Margaret McElduff earned two conversions for the team. The University of Albany scored one try before time ran out, but did not make a comeback quickly enough to move on in the championships.

“The University of Albany gave us tough physical games, but to be perfectly honest, the game we lost this year was our biggest test,” admitted Coach Brown.

Instead of letting this upset slow their progress, the Brewers are learning from the match and using the experience to improve their game. “We’re used to having possession of the ball for the majority of games, so we can’t break down when better teams that we play have possession and test our defense. It’s important to capitalize on every opportunity we have.”

In the Final Four, the Brewers will play teams that prove to be more physical and confrontational in contact situations than teams that they have played in season so far. Therefore, they will need to defend for larger portions of the game and therefore must advance these aspects of their guard.

Though the Brewers have made it to the Final Four three times in the past four years, they have yet to make it to the final game, which only amplifies the craving for success. “We’re really trying to push constructive criticism and camaraderie right now,” Freeman pointed out. “As captains, we have made it clear that we are going into the Final Four with the intention to win.”

The women’s rugby team will compete against Davenport University in Greenville, SC at Furman University in this round of the championships. The match will take place on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m.

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