Coaching strength lifts women’s rugby above Princeton team

by Haley Gordon | 9/22/14 5:14pm

Guided by new coaching and shifts in training, the women’s rugby team eviscerated Princeton University in its first Ivy League game of the season by a lopsided score of 62-3. In last year’s win over Princeton, the final score was 7-5 in favor the Big Green.

Senior captain and three-year veteran Allie Brouckman ’15 attributed the team’s growth coming into the season to intense preseason training implemented by returning head coach Debra Archambault ’85 and new assistant coach Candi Orsini.

“We started out with some really intense practices with a lot of learning the theories and applying them,” Brouckman said. “Deb and Candi work very well together, and it has been extremely helpful because we can devote more time to specialized skills for all the individuals on the team and also more time to rookie development.”

The team, which lost four starters this year, has a large constituency of relatively new players mixed with a more experienced group of upperclassmen.

Orsini is the first full-time assistant coach to work with the team. “It was a great opportunity,” Orsini said of the position, “because the Ivy League is leading the way in the growth and professionalism of rugby.”

She worked with the USA women’s rugby national team, both as a player and as an assistant coach, and she also served as Eckerd College’s head coach for nearly four years.

The coaches have split up the team during practice to give different positions undivided attention, co-captain Diana Wise ’15 said.

“It’s been really great to have this influx of expertise and I’ve learned things about my position that I hadn’t learned in the last three years,” Wise said. “I think our back line is really developing to a higher level, essentially because of her.”

During preseason, Archambault and Orsini enlisted the help of World Cup player Jamie Burke as a guest coach. Burke was a prop for the American national team, and helped the team achieve an impressive sixth place World Cup finish. Her expertise, combined with that of Archambault and Orsini, melded to create a diversified training experience focused on improving position-specific skills.

Though the coaches split the team by position, they still focused on teaching newer members the fundamentals, Brouckman said. Burke gave players real examples of situations she faced as an athlete, which gave each drill meaningful context for the players.

Brouckman said a particular focus was placed on defending against mauls, an offensive strategy relying on brute strength to carry a player and ball across the field.

At the weekend game, Princeton, a team that Brouckman said is known for the size and strength of its players, attempted several mauls. She said the Dartmouth defense halted every one.

Though the Big Green did not score in the first 10 minutes of the game, once players got the ball out wide to quicker players and found support in the forward pack, Dartmouth dominated the offensive game.

Looking forward, Brouckman pointed to a few potentially important steps.

“Take each game as it comes. Go in knowing we are the underdog and knowing we’re going to leave it all on the field,” Brouckman said. “We have a really strong team, and we could win the Ivies this year.”

The Dartmouth women’s rugby team has won nine Ivy League titles in its history.

Brouckman and her teammates will have the chance to continue that tradition of success when they take the field Saturday against Brown University.