Vassar women’s rugby performs well at West Point

Senior Alicia Menard-Livingston breaks a tackle and holds onto the ball as senior Kayla Lightner (left) and senior Amanda Saich look on. Vassar beat West Pont JV 61-26 last Friday. / Courtesy of Karl Rabe

Friday the 13th proved to be bad luck for the West Point JV rugby team, as they dropped their match to the Vassar College Brewers 61-26.

The Brewers traveled to West Point for their sixth matchup of the fall season. Things started off well for the Brewers, who converted within the first few minutes of the match. Fullback senior Michelle Urrutia received the ball, maneuvered her way around the defense and ended up in Army territory. Vassar took advantage of their favorable placement and got the ball to junior Jennie To, who crossed the line easily due to a lack of defense at the side of the ruck.

Vassar had the ball at the restart and began their movement up the field, but soon they turned the ball over in the center of the field. An Army defender took the ball from her 22 to the Vassar 22, and then dropped the ball off to a support player who ran it in to tie the score at 7-7.

Vassar got back on the board soon with a great run by junior flanker Oshana Reich, who fought through from over 15 yards out. Another good run for the Brewers came from senior Kayla Lightner, who helped gain significant yardage. A few plays later, Urrutia scored for the Brewers, who then were up 17-7.

However, when Army got the ball back, they jumped on the Brewers, who were looking disorganized following a penalty. Army stole a Vassar scrum put-in and converted, closing the gap to 17-12.

Army soon scored again, making it 19-17 but Reich got the ball and gave the Brewers another score before halftime, pushing VC ahead 24-19 at the half.

After the first 40 minutes, it was clear that the team needed to focus on their defensive effort throughout the second half. Coach Tony Brown, who has been with the program for 22 years, voiced the need for the Brewers to be smarter defensively. The Brewers had the ball for most of the first half, but West Point kept the score close. “In the first half we did not defend well. We have to be smarter setting up defensively. Army scored three tries and led after 30 minutes, yet we had monopolized possession,” Brown noted in an email response. However, he did applaud the offensive strength throughout the match: “We did establish our attacking pattern, and that allowed us to keep the ball for long periods.”

The Brewers took their halftime chat to heart and played a more well-rounded second half.

As they progressed, the Brewers’ level of play improved both individually and as a team. While the Army squad began losing steam, the Brewers kept piling on the pressure. Senior Sarah Mawhinney scored, along with Urrutia and To who both earned a hat trick. The Brewers finished the match with a significant point differential for the victory. However, the match also illuminated a necessary improvement in their defense.

Consistent with Coach Brown’s comment on the lack of defensive cohesion, junior Makena Emery commented on the team’s inability to play a solid full game. “I think the team did well this past weekend at West Point, but I’ll be honest, though, it wasn’t a great first half,” she said. “Unfortunately, this seems to be a tendency of the last few games, so one of the main things we definitely need to work on this week is not waiting until the second half to start playing good rugby.” However, Emery was happy with the offensive end of things. “A few things I thought we did do well on once we picked it up was staying composed and maintaining possession of the ball,” she commented.

As for the rest of the season, the Brewers are heading into playoffs, meaning if they lose, their season is over. The Brewers play New Paltz in the first round next weekend. They are looking to learn from their mistakes from the West Point match and focus on improving their defense in practice this week. “To prepare for the first round of conference playoffs on Sunday, we are definitely going to work on making our tackles and quickly setting up a defensive line,” Emery noted. “We’ve been challenged in these last few weeks by having to play more defense than we are used to.” Working on something that has clearly been an issue for the Brewers is only go- ing to benefit the team, especially heading into tougher matches.

Senior Sarah Mawhinney expressed the team’s enthusiasm going into their next match against New Paltz. Since it is single elimination, the stakes are high. “The New Paltz game is exciting because it’s the start of playoffs and we’re definitely starting to pump up the pressure. If we lose, we’re done for the season, so as a team we all really have to step up for each other at this point in the season,” Mawhinney said.

Mawhinney also discussed her leadership role as a senior, along with her fellow seniors so far this season. “From a competitive standpoint, all of the seniors, as the most experienced players, really step up as leaders to make sure that we as a team compete at a high level. From a team standpoint, we always want to make sure that even if practice is hard, even if we’re tackling each other in the mud in pouring rain, we all show up for each other and work every day to make ourselves and each other better,” she commented. This relentless and determined attitude that the seniors demonstrate is evident in the fact that the Brewers have gone undefeated in their season thus far and don’t show any signs of stopping.

Emery made this attitude clear by remarking that the end goal of this Brewers’ squad is to make another trip down to South Carolina for the Final Four. “We are taking that step by step, first with the Tri-State Conference, where we’re aiming to defend our championship title,” she explained.

With a 6-0 record and a rock-solid offense, the Brewers are continually setting themselves up for yet another great fall season.

The Brewers will host New Paltz at home on the Vassar Farm this coming Sunday, Oct. 22, in the first round of playoffs.

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