Men’s and women’s rugby seniors leave lasting impact

Men’s rugby seniors, left to right: Joshua Espada, Kaden Grae, George Sheppard, Roydell Morris, Dale Lord, Caleb Zachary, Nick Olkovsky, Joe Simon, Gary Garcia and Nicolas Crooks (middle)./ Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

The pure physicality of rugby surely doesn’t make it a tremendously easy, or painless, sport to play. Still, the culture surrounding the men’s and women’s rugby teams here at Vassar, lead by their senior class, make it an experience worth investing in.

Both teams boast nine experienced seniors, who helped lead their teams to impressive victories on both senior days this past weekend. The men collectively overpowered the Red Foxes of Marist College, 31-24, while the women beat their rival Great Danes from the University of Albany, 38-17.

Although the Brewers play in part due to their love of the sport, being in the rugby family has meant so much more. This year’s nine senior men have played a significant role in fostering this notion of the players being a family, rather than just a team.

Said head coach Anthony Brown: “Prior leaders from the team have dominated the program path, but our current seniors have been the mainstays of the rugby program. They continue the tradition of Vassar Rugby being much more than a sports team—it is a close-knit group that finds a common bond in learning this sport and competing against other schools.” Senior Brewers impressively add skill, passion and effort to the program. Referencing this point, Brown relayed, “Senior captain Joe Simon has exhibited not only a real enthusiasm and joy for the sport, but he is also one of the quickest players to have ever played rugby at Vassar in the past 22 years.”

Simon is joined by Nick Olkovsky, Gary Garcia, George Sheppard, Nick Crooks, Caleb Zachary, Joshua Espada, Dale Lord and newcomer senior Rodyll Morris. So far this season, the senior class has collectively added 201 tries onto the team statistics, higher than every class that came before them. The seniors on the women’s rugby team have been able to develop a similar environment of encouragement, support and leadership for their younger teammates. Having only played the sport for a year and a half at Vassar, junior Meredith Leder vouches that these qualities of the seniors have helped her to adjust to the team well. “They have always been really great at encouraging the underclassmen and rookies to play their best,” Leder noted. “I’m really going to miss them next year, but I think we are currently developing a good team. Hopefully, we’ll be able to live up to their legacy.”

While the younger classes of women’s rugby are filled with talent and heart, the senior class leaves substantial shoes to fill. These nine players have not only greatly contributed to their team via their physical talents, but also through their dedication to advancing the program as a whole.

Their efforts to improve the Vassar rugby program off the field have not gone unnoticed by shared head coach Anthony Brown. “One of our seniors, Claire Fondrie-Teitler, was a major force in organizing the rugby tour to Barcelona, Spain, one year ago,” he recalled.

This international trip resonates with some of the team’s most important principles. Though training and matches were still scheduled, the primary focus of traveling was to facilitate team bonding after spending an extended winter break apart.

Continuing his praise for the seniors away from the playing field, Brown added, “Michelle Urrutia has been very active with social media on behalf of the team. Her work in Athletics Communications has been truly prolific.” These efforts to strengthen the team’s presence on social media speaks to the players’ desire to see the program grow in size and skill in the future, even past their own graduation.

The rest of the senior players on the women’s rugby team, Fiona Brodie, Elaina Peterkin, Andrea Ramsay, Megan de Koning, Sarah Mawhinney, Kayla Lightner, Abby Alexander, Alicia Menard-Livingston and Amanda Saich, have all made outstanding contributions to the developing success of the team moving forward.

In just the current season, these nine seniors have contributed to a vast majority of the points secured by the team this season. Within the class, the seniors have accumulated 84 tries and and 428 points. However, their admirable intangible qualities outweigh the scores that any player could ever earn.

“Every one of these players brings something to the table,” Brown contended. “Each of the graduating seniors have left a legacy for others to build upon. What they all bring to the squad collectively is a real joy and enthusiasm for playing.”

Overall, the men and women of Vassar rugby all vow that playing the sport would not be possible without the level of trust and support that they feel for their fellow teammates.

The senior men and women of Vassar rugby will all look to earn a victory in their final Beast of the East tournament, which is coming up with matches scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

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