Women's rugby earns spot in Ivy Conference 15s playoffs

by Emma Willems | 11/6/12 11:00pm

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The women's rugby team defeated Cornell University, 29-12, on Saturday in the last game of its fall 15s season.
by Pallavi Kuppa-Apte / The Dartmouth

The Big Green jumped out to a fast start, as Diana Wise '15 scored on a 60-meter sprint for a try followed by a successful conversion by co-captain Karoline Walter '13 only 10 minutes into the game. Continuing the Big Green's early dominance, Mayowa Willoughby '14 broke through several defenders to allow for a second try from Matt Sturm '13 to increase the lead to 12-0.

"We definitely came out strong in the first half," Walter said. "I think everyone was really excited about the game and knew that we had to work hard right away."

Dartmouth kept up the momentum, as tries by Pallavi Kuppa-Apte '14, Sabrina Amaro '13 and Willoughby left the team ahead 29-0 by halftime. Throughout the game, the team displayed a sense of cohesion and organization, which it had been working on since its loss to Princeton University on Oct. 20.

"Coach Deb [Archambault] was really good at giving us a basic template for our offense, which made it easier for the forwards to cooperate with the backs," co-captain Emma Vance '13 said. "Cornell's passing was also a bit slow, which really helped us."

The team excelled at getting the ball out wide in its plays, something that is helpful at home because the field at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse is wider than other teams' fields.

"We were able to compress [Cornell's] defense with vertical attacks and then spread the ball out, beating them out wide with superior speed and excellent running lines," Archambault said.

The Big Green women, however, were not able to continue their dominance in the second half of the match, as the Big Red increased its tempo while Dartmouth lost intensity. Big Green penalties allowed Cornell to make two tries before the end of the game, leaving the final score at 29-12.

"I think we lost our intensity a little bit because we went in thinking that with the lead we had, we just needed to play 40 minutes of defense," Vance said. "Both of [Cornell's] tries came off of penalties, which is something that we had had a problem with earlier this season."

The matchup was especially significant because both teams were vying for the fourth-place seat in the Ivy Conference 15s playoffs in March against the three other teams in the Ivy League top tier.

"This was a must-win game not only for our season, but also for our reputation," Vance said. "We convincingly demonstrated that we are a top-tier team and that Cornell is a bottom-tier team."

The match also marked the end of this year's fall season, during which the Big Green began strong with wins against Syracuse University and Columbia University, but then lost its winning touch as the season progressed. According to both captains, this downward trend may have resulted from an increased focus on individual skills at the expense of full-team drills during practices, or just from the stress of the term.

The win against Cornell was particularly rewarding to players because of the resilience the women showed after disappointing losses against Brown University, Harvard University and Princeton University earlier in the season.

"This season, we had a high scoring capacity against less-organized teams, but we struggled offensively against the defenses of the top tier of the Ivy Rugby Conference," Archambault said. "We now proved we belong in the top tier, and we are looking forward to our conference playoffs in the spring."

The first game of the playoffs will be especially important for the Big Green, as the team will face Brown after a disappointing 10-0 loss to the Bears on Sept. 29. Before facing Brown, the players said they plan to work on specific parts of their game.

"I think we need to continue to work on our running patterns and on integrating forwards and backs as we have been," Walter said.

Both Vance and Walter said that the team's spring training trip will be vital in preparing them for the games.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't make it to the national tournament," Vance said. "I think we had a focus issue, not a rugby issue, and we're going to come away from our training trip very focused and very unified. We have a good idea of Brown's playing style now, and I think we can put something good together."

Although the team planned to participate in the Ivy Sevens Championship in Princeton, N.J., next weekend, the women decided to bow out due to a lack of preparation time. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the National Sevens Championship in Texas.

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