Muddy men's ruggers take fifth-straight Ivy cup

by Jacob E. Osterhout | 4/19/02 5:00am

The Dartmouth men's rugby team expected to host and win the Ivy League tournament this year. It expected the seniors to play the last game at Sachem and walk off the field to the cheers of the hometown fans. They expected to win their fifth-straight Ivy League cup.

But, like that old saying goes, "you can't have your cake and eat it too." Due to miscommunications and trite politics, the Big Green ruggers had to travel to Ithaca this weekend where Cornell hosted the tournament. Not that traveling seven hours stopped them from winning; Dartmouth won all three of its games in convincing fashion to capture the 2002 Ivy League title.

"We just felt that we deserved the tournament this year," Jeremy Lepage '02 said. "We probably have the best facilities and we have won the damn thing for a half decade, that alone should be the deciding factor. But hey, it didn't really matter, we were going to win no matter what."

And win they did. For a team that had problems in the fall dealing with adverse conditions, Dartmouth seemed unphased by the distant location of the tournament and the rain that perpetually poured on Ithaca all weekend.

The Big Green ruggers played the University of Pennsylvania in their first-round match. Using a mixed lineup of young and old players, Dartmouth jumped out to a one-try lead over an undermanned Penn team. But Penn stormed back, using penalties and its bull-headed forwards to tie up the score.

"In hindsight it is easy to say that no one was worried," Gunther Hamm '02 said. "But, I think when Penn scored, that was a little reality check."

Dartmouth regrouped and touched down two more tries before the end of the first half, effectively taking Penn out of the game and eventually winning the match 35-14.

The victory over Penn set Dartmouth up to play its in-season rival, Brown, in the second round of the tournament.

"Brown played us really tough during the regular season," co-captain Michael Linchitz '02 said. "This was a chance for us to gauge the improvement we have made since then."

Brown started the game strong. With a little help from the referee and some mental mistakes by the Big Green ruggers they were only down by three at halftime.

"It's not that we played poorly in the first half," winger Kansas Henderson '02 said. "It's just that we were concentrating on the wrong things. We were concentrating on the referee and the calls more than what we had to do to win. We really turned that around in the second half."

Dartmouth came out in the second half of the Brown game just as the rain began to pour down -- it would not stop for the next two days -- and really displayed its dominance. Captain Matthew Sullivan '02 implemented a new kicking strategy and it seemed that Dartmouth always had the ball. The forwards were at every ruck and Brown players were on their heels as outside center Kevin Reavey '02 and fullback Jeffery Kinkaid '01 picked their holes at will.

"We had been waiting for that all season. We knew how well we could play, it was just so rare to see it. Suddenly, it all came out in the second half of that Brown game. Rugby's a lot more fun when you are playing well," Heitner said.

Brown scored a grand total of zero points in the second half as Dartmouth waltzed into the finals with a 24-8 victory. And who should the squad play in the finals? None other than the team that rained on its parade; the team that stole its tournament out from under its nose. Dartmouth marched into the final game on Sunday against a seventh-seeded Cornell team that had upset two highly favored clubs, Princeton and Harvard.

"That was a miracle for them," Chris Lentz '02 said. "On their home field they beat two teams they had never beaten before. It was incredible. They played very hard and took advantage of the muddy circumstances. We knew we couldn't overlook them."

Dartmouth has never played well in the rain and it rained all Saturday night, making the field conditions miserable.

"I knew what we were capable of doing, I was just worried that we would get bogged down in the mud," coach Alex Magleby said. "We were very focused, it was just how we were going to channel that focus."

But, if there were worries of a letdown by the DRFC, they were quelled within the first 10 minutes of play in the senior's final match. Cornell hit hard, but crumbled under the rucking power of forwards like Ryan Mannix '02. Cornell kicked well, but could not win a line out. Cornell played well, but not well enough.

Dartmouth's defense was almost as impeccable as its offense. Despite dubious officiating, Cornell was held scoreless through much of the game and there was a constant flux of Cornell injury substitutions due to Dartmouth's hard hitting. The game ended 34-17 in favor of Dartmouth, but was really much less of a game than the score indicates.

"That game was just awesome," Nate Deluke '02 said. "What a perfect way to end a rugby career for the seniors. We were in control the whole game. We executed our plays and handled ourselves in a professional manner that was not present during the fall."

"I came off that field exactly as I dreamed I would end my rugby career," Robert Huntington '02 said. "I was caked in mud, tired, satisfied and victorious. That was a weekend I'll never forget."

At the culmination of the tournament, the Dartmouth team ushered out its seniors and elected Dave Neundorfer '03 as the captain for next year. Gabe Doleac '03 was picked co-captain as well. They will take over in the quest for Dartmouth's sixth-straight Ivy League title in 2003. Maybe next time it will be on its home field.

Jacob Osterhout is a senior scrum half on the men's Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.

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