Dartmouth ’15 captains team USA

by Gayne Kalustian | 1/29/15 5:42pm

For the fourth time since the start of the HSBC Sevens World Series, Madison Hughes ’15 has been selected to captain the USA Eagles sevens squad. The Eagles embarked for Wellington, New Zealand for the fourth leg of the series, set to take place on Feb. 6 and 7.

Hughes, who has been filling the position of scrum half for the Eagles, has been chosen before each tour to maintain the position of captain, selected at camp in Chula Vista, California.

Captaining the team, Hughes said, has taught him more about interpersonal connection and team dynamics than rugby itself.

“I think I’ve definitely learned a lot about the different characters on our team,” he said. “I’ve learned how to motivate different guys because I think that’s what a big part of my job is. I am supposed to bring the team together with their different personalities and backgrounds.”

Slotted at scrum half since the start of the World Series tour, Hughes finds himself in a unique spot among the seven-man squad to put his knowledge of his teammates to work from arguably the best possible position on the field.

“I think my role on the team is to pull the different aspects together — the fast guys out wide and the big guys up front,” Hughes said. “I’m sort of in the middle and kind of pull it together and get the ball to the best spot.”

Also at the invitational camp prior to the Wellington Sevens was Nate Brakeley ’12, a Dartmouth rugby football club member and former co-captain who played alongside Hughes during the latter’s freshman year.

“The camp was great,” Brakeley said. “It was a very intense week and a very high level rugby. It was a really neat experience to be part of an environment like that and see how they trained at the highest level. It was valuable to see where my weak points were at that level.”

Brakeley played against Hughes this summer when Cambridge University came to Hanover to play the U.S. men’s collegiate All-Americans. Hughes, who was playing fullback at the time, was selected to captain that squad as well. Brakeley, after having received his master’s degree from Cambridge, was invited to play with his old squad this summer because he lives in the area, and is now working for a software company in New York City.

The culture of rugby in England, he said, made playing the game a different experience overseas.

“The big difference between playing rugby in England and America is that everyone in England has been playing rugby since they were born, whereas on the Dartmouth team, you’ll have five guys who played rugby before college,” Brakeley said. “In England, you have one to15 who are deep in their knowledge and skills.”

A second row in 15s and a prop in sevens, Brakeley has also played rugby with the New York Athletic Club.

Dartmouth rugby football head coach Gavin Hickie, who never had the opportunity to coach Brakeley but has seen him play, said the two Dartmouth players — despite playing very different positions — share a mentality on the field.

“Their attitude and desire to improve and their ability to galvanize those around them are strengths that they both share,” Hickie said.

Now on his fourth stint as Eagles captain, Hickie said, Hughes has been exhibiting growth not only as a player but as a leader.

“Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, Madison is maturing very, very quickly,” he said. “He’s becoming a very well-rounded world class rugby player. His leadership, game sense, game awareness is growing the whole time.”

Hughes and the Eagles, after three rounds, find themselves landing all over the standings, losing in the bowl semifinals in Dubai before taking the plate in South Africa in the middle of December. Looking forward, the United States will be opening play in New Zealand by taking on one of the undisputed best teams in the world — South Africa.