No. 1 in the country, rugby looks toward national championship

by Becky Brownell | 10/16/17 2:10am

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The No. 1 rugby team will host the Ivy League Championship on Oct. 28.

by Tiffany Zhai / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Steamrolling ahead, the rugby team is ranked No. 1 in the second National Intercollegiate Rugby Association poll of the season and is the favorite to take home a national championship.

Starting off with a front-heavy fall schedule packed with their toughest competition, Dartmouth opened with a 22-17 win over two-time defending national champion Quinnipiac University before crushing Harvard University 39-10 and the United States Military Academy 45-7. This past weekend, the women blanked No. 10 Brown University 28-0, who forfeited the game, giving the Big Green an automatic win.

“We came out incredibly strong in the Quinnipiac game, which was huge,” flyhalf Camille Johnson ’19 said. “Once we beat Quinnipiac and then Army pretty easily, who had crushed us last year, suddenly everyone was on the same page about believing we could actually win a national championship.”

Standout center Lilly Durbin ’21 has helped power Dartmouth with seven tries this season, including five against Army.

“I get the chills thinking about what a national championship would mean for Dartmouth, for the Ivy League, for rugby and for women’s sports as a whole,” she said.

Co-captain Frankie Sands ’18 emphasized the strength of their team on and off the field.

“We have an incredibly strong team connection that starts with laying the foundation of the season back in the spring,” Sands said. “Our team goal has been to win a national championship, and we are definitely excited to have this opportunity.”

Dartmouth is in a unique position at the forefront of an emerging collegiate sport. As leaders of a pack of developing teams, Big Green players have a deep desire to improve the Ivy League’s competition and elevate club teams to the varsity level.

“As a team, we learn so much more from closer competition, which is why these other club programs need to go varsity,” Kat Ramage ’19 said. “As great as it is crushing these teams, we also want to keep improving our program by playing the strongest teams that we can.”

Sands and co-captain Morgan McGonagle ’18 hope that women’s rugby will soon become an official NCAA sport. It is currently considered an emerging sport along with equestrian and triathlon. Seventeen teams play in the NIRA, nearly half of the 40 teams necessary to become an official NCAA sport.

“Since we became varsity two years ago, our team has grown at an incredibly high rate,” McGonagle said. “But we also want to bring in other teams and share that growth for women’s rugby as a whole.”

Forward Milla Anderson ’19 said that if club teams like Princeton University or Yale University transition to varsity status, the Ivy League could become the first varsity women’s rugby league in the country.

“The resources, coaches and recruits involved with going varsity will improve the game so much, which we are all pushing for in other schools,” she said.

While the Big Green is concentrated on elevating women’s rugby at the collegiate level as a whole, its short-term focus is now the national championship.

“We plan on going into Ivies and nationals using our own game plan and making sure we don’t get too comfortable with a lead,” Anderson said. “We pride ourselves on playing strong defense and keeping that high work rate up, so we’re focused on trusting our own skills to win the championship.”

Currently, the team looks unshakable in its quest to be the best women’s rugby team in the country. Dartmouth will host the Ivy League Championship at Brophy Field on Oct. 28 and will begin the national championship tournament on Nov. 11.