Women's rugby dominates at Harvard 7s to open spring season

by Elijah Czysz | 4/8/19 2:10am

There is only one Dartmouth sport undefeated this spring following a national championship season: women’s rugby.

In the fall, the Big Green bested Harvard University 19-14 to win the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association National Championship. With the victory, the team avenged its loss to Harvard earlier in the season, its lone defeat in a 9-1 season. Moreover, its one loss appears to have been an outlier in comparison to its overall record against the Crimson. During the 2018-19 academic year, Dartmouth outscored Harvard 89-49 and has gone 3-1. 

The team’s success yielded significant representation in NIRA’s 2018 All-American roster announced this March. Five members of the women’s rugby team earned first-team spots: Milla Anderson ’19, Emily Henrich ’22, Idia Ihensekhien ’21, Camille Johnson ’19 and Kat Ramage ’19 — and no other school placed as many athletes on the NIRA Tier 1 All-American First Team. Harvard contributed four (plus two honorable mentions), the United States Military Academy three and Quinnipiac University two.

The Big Green has continued its near-flawless streak into the 2019 spring season. In the spring, collegiate teams switch to a variant of rugby known as “rugby sevens.” In sevens, the number of players on the field is reduced from 15 to just seven. The time limit of the two halves of the game is also reduced from 40 minutes to seven minutes each. Due to the shorter games, teams play multiple games in a day as part of a tournament instead of playing only one game.

The team opened its season with the Harvard 7s tournament in Cambridge, MA. Dartmouth swept the tournament, going 5-0 for the day, defeating Molloy College, American International College, Army, Quinnipiac and Harvard. The Big Green outscored its opponents a by total of 157-29 and shut out two teams.

“It’s a really good platform to build off of as we’re going into more important tournaments for titles,” said flanker Marin Pennell ’21, who had three tries on the weekend.

Once again, Harvard presented the biggest challenge for the Big Green. In the tournament’s final match, Dartmouth defeated the Crimson 12-10. Ariana Ramsey ’22 contributed two tries, one of which secured their victory in the final seconds of the game.

“The final was a great game of rugby and a true test of our mettle,” head coach Katie Dowty said in a College press release.

Ramsey has had a promising start to her spring season. Over the course of the weekend, Ramsey — who was injured for much of the fall season — scored 10 tries for a total of 50 points. Not only was that the highest point total from anyone on the Big Green, but Ramsey also managed to put up points in all five of the tournament’s games.

“She’s one of the fastest players in women’s collegiate rugby,” said team captain Johnson. “I don’t even know how you begin to defend her.”

Another promising young player is Henrich, a three-sport varsity athlete in high school whose parents also played rugby for the Big Green. In her first season with Dartmouth, Henrich led the team in tries (11) and finished second in points (73). Consequently, Henrich was one of only two first-years to be named an All-American in 2018. Henrich tallied five tries in the Harvard 7s tournament for 25 points.

Henrich and Ramsey’s strength lies in their ability to speed the ball on the outside to score tries. That speed is essential in sevens, which relies more on speed and possession than the more physical and territorial fifteens, according to Ramsey. Not only do these two first-years score so prolifically, but their speed on the outside also creates lanes for other players when an opponent’s defense overcommits to covering them.

When a ball is dropped in a game of sevens, a ruck forms around the ball. Typically, three players are engaged with opponents to win the ball, and the remaining four trail behind the ruck in preparation for receiving the ball. This spring, Henrich and Ramsey have been positioned on the end of that trail to carry the ball quickly on the outside. Because of the major threat that these two first-years pose, opposing defenses struggle to cover the Big Green’s offense.

“I’m able to slip through the gap in the defense because they are so focused on really skilled players,” Johnson said. “It makes it impossible for the defense to be everywhere at once.” 

Looking ahead to the rest of the spring season, women’s rugby has three more events to keep an eye on.

On April 13, the Big Green returns to Cambridge for the Ivy 7s Tournament. As always, Harvard will be a strong challenger. Dartmouth will also have to fend off Brown University, whose freshman Zyana Thomas earned an honorable mention in the All-American Team, and Princeton University, which went 6-0 in the less competitive Ivy Rugby Conference this past fall.

Looking further ahead, Dartmouth will host a scimmage versus Middlebury College on May 5 before heading to the national championship. The USA Rugby 7s National Championship will take place from May 24-26 in Tucson, Arizona. In its season opener, Dartmouth bested three out of the seven Division I NCAA women’s rugby teams, so the Big Green has a solid shot at taking home two national titles in a single academic year.