Rugby teams open fall seasons after successful spring campaigns
Women's rugby started the season strong with a win over Brown University.
The women’s rugby team will look to build off an historically successful season last fall. For the first time in the team’s history, Dartmouth won the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association National Championship in November 2018. Despite national success, the team will be looking to avenge its loss to Harvard University in the Ivy 7s Championship final.
“[We’re] trying to springboard off of [the championship] and hopefully perform to the same high standards,” women’s rugby co-captain Marin Pennell ’21 said. “The dream is to win Ivies and Nationals in one year.” To find this success, the Big Green will have to shuffle its approach to its backline, the players positioned behind scrums to use their speed to score tries. Emily Henrich ’22 will not be playing for the Big Green in the 2019-20 season. Instead, she will be training with the USA Women’s Rugby National Team. Last season, Henrich was a major contributor to the team, leading the team in tries. To add to the accolades, she won the MA Sorensen Award, given to the best women’s college rugby player in the nation. Training with Henrich for USA Rugby will be Lilly Durbin ’21, who did not play for Dartmouth last season but led the team in points and tries in 2017-18 as a first-year student.
The Big Green graduated Camille Johnson ’19, who led the team last year in conversions and total points, and Kat Ramage ’19, who was nominated alongside Henrich last season for the MA Sorensen Award. Also absent in the lineup will be Sophie Ragg ’22, who is currently injured. Ragg ended her fall third in both tries and total points with the Big Green.
“We pride ourselves on having a deep bench,” Pennell said. “We’ll shift and adjust.”
Saturday’s commanding 52-17 win against Brown University highlighted some of the Dartmouth players who will be contributing to the Big Green’s backline. Ariana Ramsey ’22, who competed in the Pan American Games on the US Women’s Sevens team with Henrich, scored three tries against Brown. Kristin Bitter ’23, a promising first-year, contributed five conversions and a try.
“This is a cool year because a lot of players will have to step up and a lot of players have been stepping up,” said Sophia Haley ’22.
The Brown game highlighted some of the first-year recruits that have spent pre-season with the Big Green.
“They’re definitely finding their place … a lot of them are playing new or different positions,” Pennell said. “There’s always so much development that happens.”
The next weeks will provide a greater challenge, as the Big Green take on Harvard on Sept. 21 and the United States Military Academy on Oct. 5.
Other notable changes to the team include the addition of a new assistant coach, Kelley Sullivan, last spring.
“I think it should be really good once we do start the walk on recruiting process to have the extra person for them to use,” Pennell said.
For the Big Green, the process of recruiting is still underway. On Friday, the team did “sweeps,” which entailed knocking on the doors of first-years. As a relatively new varsity sport, the team pitches a supportive culture for walk ons.
“I would emphasize how empowering the sport is,” Haley said. “We have the same rules as our men’s rugby team. It feels good to be surrounded by such strong women and supportive people.”
The Dartmouth Men’s Rugby Football Club is also following up a successful year. Last spring, it progressed to the semifinal round of the Collegiate Rugby Championship and in conference play, the team won the Ivy 7s Tournament and the Ivy 15s Championship.
To begin the season, DRFC always can find tough competition in the United States Military Academy, which bested the Big Green 29-22 on Sept. 11 in what head coach James Willocks described as “a bit of a heartbreaker.”
“We gave [Army] 14 points just through first game jitters,” Willocks said. “But that was our first test. The next real test will be against Penn State,” Willocks said.
The Big Green will face Princeton University on Sept. 21 and then Pennsylvania State University on Sept. 28. After that, the team will transition into Ivy League play.
Since 1998, the Big Green has lost only three Ivy 15s Championships and 2019 marked the seventh Ivy 7s win out of the past eight years. So, as the DRFC transitions from preseason to Ivy League play, fans can expect success on that front.
However, among Ivy League challengers, co-captain Mason Koch ’20 states that Harvard and Brown University are good competition and are contenders in the Ivy League.
In the spring of 2019, DRFC graduated significant contributors to the team. In general, Willocks said that the team has lost height – players such as Struan Coleman ’19, Fuller Winton ’19, Dylan Burke ’19 and many more. Height is beneficial in rugby because when the ball goes out of bounds, both teams fight for the ball on the throw-in by essentially building a tower of people. The higher that tower is, according to Koch, the easier it is to win the ball.
“So far, the guys have done a really good job rebuilding it,” Willocks said. “We’ve managed to scrounge up some height and some of the taller guys we’ve got have been doing a really good job.”
Aiding in the reconstruction, with classes starting later than usual, the Big Green has more time to train the seven recruits from the class of 2023 that have attended preseason.
“We’ve had a three-week preseason where we’ve been able to get a fair bit of time, get a lot of meeting done to educate,” Willocks said.
The Class of 2023 is already being incorporated into the DRFC’s gameplans. According to Koch, Matias Calvo ’23 got significant minutes in the Army game and will be a major plus for the team.
The later start date does mean that there is less time to bring walk-ons from the Class of 2023 on board. To help with this, Willocks said that he would simply schedule the development games, designed for developing recruits, later in the season.
“If you’re interested, come give it a try,” he said. “If you want to be competitive, if you want to play a physical sport that has great camaraderie and has great history. There’s a place for everybody here.”