Men's and women's rugby qualify for Nationals next spring

by Sarah Rohrbach | 11/20/08 3:23am

Successful 2008 seasons for Dartmouth's rugby programs culminated with both the women and men's teams earning bids to their respective national tournaments in the spring.

Dartmouth women's rugby closed its season with an impressive win against fourth-seeded Vassar College to take third place at the Northeast Rugby Union finals on Sunday, Nov. 9. With the victory, Dartmouth will get a spot in the round of 16 at the national tournament run by USA Rugby.

While the team lost a first round battle to second-seeded Brown by a final score of 49-22 on Saturday, Nov. 8, it rallied the next day to beat Vassar, 17-12, to finish in third place.

Dartmouth, the No. 6 seed in the field, opened up the NRU tournament by downing the University of Buffalo, 5-0, in quarterfinal play on Saturday, Nov. 1 in Buffalo, N.Y.

During the regular season, Dartmouth lost only two games, one to Brown and one to Vassar. Dartmouth lost to the Brewers, 12-5, and fell to the Bears, 10-5, with both defeats coming at home in Hanover.

Co-captain Rachel Forman '09 was pleased with the way Dartmouth responded to its loss to Brown to earn a critical victory against Vassar.

"We definitely went in as the underdog," Forman said. "We had played both Brown and Vassar during the season, and each of those games was really close, so we knew that we had the potential to beat either of them."

"The first match at the tournament [at Bowdoin], though, we pretty much got embarrassed. We played Brown, and ended up losing by a lot, which was depressing, but I think it makes it all the more impressive that the next day we played so hard," she said.

Forman was proud of the way the entire season went and noted the team's ability to play well despite its youth and size.

"I think we're pretty impressive," Forman said. "We're a very young team, and generally we are outsized by the other teams. We're really fast compared to a lot of teams, so we can run around them, but it's much more about determination and playing hard when you don't have the size."

For club president Mallory McQueen '09, the success of the team and the upcoming trip to Nationals is the culmination of a process that began her freshman year.

"We've basically been rebuilding since we've been here, so we're just super psyched to get the chance to go," McQueen said.

Nationals will take place during the third week of April. According to McQueen, Dartmouth is ranked 15th of 16 teams in the field. While the team does not yet know who it will face, it remains optimistic. The last time the women's team went to Nationals in 2003, it was also ranked 15th but pulled off an upset of No. 2 Navy in the first round.

Dartmouth men's rugby also ended its fall season strong, winning three playoff games to cap the fall season at 9-1 and win the Northeastern Rugby Union tournament, making Dartmouth the second team from the NRU to qualify for the national tournament, behind Army. This is the second straight year, as well as the fourth time in five years, that the team has earned a spot at Nationals.

The men's team began its playoff streak in Hanover, beating the State University of New York-Brockport, 20-3, on Saturday, Nov. 1. The team then traveled to the United States Military Academy for the semifinal and final rounds of the NRU tournament.

In the semifinals, Dartmouth dispatched Rutgers University, 29-0, on Saturday, Nov. 8, and went on to clinch a bid to Nationals by beating Syracuse University, 30-7, the next day.

Captain Conlan O'Leary '09 described the team's playoff run as dominant.

"We were almost unopposed," O'Leary said.

With a final league record of 6-1, the entire season had been marked with success. Dartmouth beat traditional rivals Boston College, 19-13, on Saturday, Sept. 13 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Harvard, 34-12, on Saturday, Sept. 20 in Cambridge, Mass.

The team also beat McGill University, 15-12, in late August, marking the program's first win against the Canadian team in 10 years.

Dartmouth's only loss in the season was a close defeat to Army, 28-20, on Saturday, Oct. 11 in Hanover. Army won the NRU regular season and therefore was exempt from the NRU tournament, having already qualified for Nationals.

This season's strong finish can be attributed to the rebuilding effort, as the team lost 22 seniors to graduation last spring.

"After last year's spring season, there were definitely some holes in the lineup," O'Leary said. "It's really unbelievable how quickly we've built a very deep, good team."

"By the end of the season, any rugby team is going to have injuries, and you're not going to have the same starting lineup you had on day one, and we dealt with that really well," he said.

Looking towards the spring, O'Leary focused on the winter conditioning that will put the team in a position to compete in Nationals.

"Last year we played BYU, who was the No. 2 team in the country, and we narrowly lost to them," O'Leary said. "And I think this year seems much better than we were last year."

"We're looking to pick up a couple of former football players and other athletes to augment the team. I think if we put in the conditioning and skill work this winter, I think we'll be a national caliber team that could play with anyone."