For a moment, the College Rugby Association of America (CRAA) Women’s Rugby Division II National Championship game was close.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Vassar responded to cut the lead to two. And then, as the Brewers usually do, they did not look back.
In convincing fashion, the Brewers captured their second consecutive National Championship, the program’s third since 2018, with a final score of 78-24.
After the Coast Guard got ahead by seven, Vassar responded with a dominant 78 to 10 scoring run.
Vassar’s dominance was well distributed, with five different players scoring tries. Sophia Bailey ’26 and Caeli Porette ’23 led the way with four tries each. Asia Baker ’24 scored twice, and Yasmeen Kassem-Scott ’26 and Julie Geller ’24 contributed a try each. Zoe Lynch ’25 added 18 points on nine conversions.
Porette, one of just four seniors on the roster, was named the Tournament MVP.
To those that have become accustomed to seeing tremendous Vassar rugby success in recent years, the 2022 season might appear to be almost an exact replica of the 2021 season.
In 2021, the Brewers finished the season 15-1, with dominant wins over the Coast Guard Academy in the National semi-final and Temple University in the championship.
This season, Vassar finished the season 13-1 and handily defeated Temple in the semi-final and the Coast Guard in the National Championship game.
But while the results might be near duplicates, the two championship rosters are far from identical.
“I think the most satisfying aspect about earning this championship is the fact that over half the squad are rugby rookies,” Head Coach Tony Brown told The Miscellany News in an email correspondence. Of the team’s 38 players, 21 were new to collegiate rugby when the fall semester began.
“The upperclassmen this September did a wonderful job recruiting freshmen and others to join the team,” Brown said.
When fielding such a young team, no matter how evident the athlete’s natural ability for the game might be, lack of game experience is bound to emerge as an obstacle. This was only furthered by the fact that many of the players that did return to the roster from last season lost opportunities to gain competition experience because of COVID-19.
“The focus each year is about quality of performance, but this particular squad was very short on game experience on account of losing the Spring 2019 semester and the academic year of 2020-21. So the major challenge was organization, i.e. game management,” Brown admitted.
The 27th year coach praised senior leadership for adeptly conquering that obstacle.
“Captains Kasey Drake and Louise Ambler, both seniors, had the least amount of game experience of any leadership team of the past 25 years, but they grew into the role and led the team admirably.”
This year’s team had every reason to excuse the 2022 season, brushing off expectations of success as unrealistic. Instead, the program flexed its strength as a perennial playoff team that has made the Division II Final Four in nine of the last 10 seasons.
As the man largely credited with building both the women’s and men’s rugby programs at Vassar, Brown takes pride in the legacies that he has empowered his athletes to create by forming such a successful program.
“The lasting legacy of this leadership will be the players they recruited to the team, the joyous atmosphere they have created of being a member of the squad and that attention to detail with basic rugby skills will provide opportunity for success,” Brown said. “A great legacy for sure.”
Now as a back-to-back national champion, Brown is also looking ahead to what the future holds for Vassar women’s rugby. And after such an inspired season, he has every reason to be optimistic.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm allied with a real sense of journey and purpose. We have only four seniors so if the current squad sticks with the program, and works hard, they can be highly competitive.”