Women’s rugby drops tough match to perennial foe Harvard

by Kaitlyn Lees | 9/23/19 2:15am

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A late comeback effort by Ariana Ramsey ’22 and the Big Green was not enough to close the gap with Harvard.

Source: Doug Austin/Courtesy of the Dartmouth Athletics Department

Women’s rugby fell to Harvard University 50-34 Saturday afternoon despite a strong second-half charge. The Harvard-Dartmouth matchup has proven to be a tough test for both teams in recent years and is shaping up to be similarly challenging in the 2019-20 season. In Oct. 2018, Harvard bested the Big Green at the Ivy Rugby Championship. The next month, Dartmouth struck back and beat the Crimson to win the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association title. This season’s NIRA preseason rankings picked the Big Green to repeat as national champions with Harvard again as runner up. 

After a dominating 52-17 win over Brown University in its first game of the season, the Big Green worked on staying connected on defense to pressure the opposition’s attack and putting together quick phases when on attack themselves. 

“We were working and talking about not letting the expectation of being the reigning champions get to us,” said head coach Katie Dowty about going into the Harvard match. “It’s really easy to say and hard to do.” 

The women’s rugby team certainly has a right to high expectations. Last year, in addition to winning the NIRA National Championship, they boasted five NIRA All-Americans, came second in the spring Collegiate 7s National Tournament, and Emily Henrich ’22 was named the top women’s college player in the country. Currently, the team has two players training with the US 7s National Team hoping to make the US team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  

The Harvard game started off strong for the Big Green, which got on the board first with a try from Idia Ihensekhien ’21. However, Harvard hit back at the end of the first half with four tries and three conversions to bring the game to 26-5. Dartmouth struggled to regain control after halftime, and the Big Green found itself down 50-12 with less than ten minutes left. 

“Our minds weren’t there,” said Ariana Ramsey ’22 of the first half of the game. “My mind wasn’t there.” 

Then the Big Green demonstrated the form that has made it one of the best college rugby programs in the country over the past few years. Ihensekhien described the difference in the second half as a “burst of energy,” as the team was able to capitalize on momentum and feed off each other. 

Ramsey, Ihensekhien and Ale Ada ’22 all came through big with tries while Lillian Johnson ’23 provided a conversion. Ramsey switched positions from outside center to wing during the second half. 

“We started speeding the game up and then actually getting the ball out wide [in the second half],” Ramsey said.

In the final seconds, Ramsey secured her third try of the game to bring the final score to 50-34. Ramsey — who competed this summer in for the US 7s team in the Pan American games — and 2018 NIRA All American Ihensekhien have proved to be key scorers for the Big Green so far this season.

“By the end, we managed to flip the switch and check back in mentally and we scored four tries in 10 minutes, which is what we are capable of doing,” Dowty said.  

Staying in the moment and focusing on day to day improvement appears to be a central theme for the team this year. Rather than focusing on the obvious ultimate goal of a national championship, Dowty said she prefers to prioritize the long term process and small steps that can make the Big Green a competitive force in the league each year. 

“You can’t just hope to win the national championship, you really have to get better every day,” she said. 

Both Dowty and Ramsey spoke of needing to work more on the mental side of game going forward in addition to some improving technical skills. 

“It’s getting out of those tough situations when you know you’re down by a lot and you still have to keep your head up,” Ramsey said. 

The team is also adjusting to a new dynamic after graduating of a strong class of seniors in the spring and the absence of a few key players for the season, including Henrich. Only two games in, Dowty is optimistic that with more games, the team can figure out the best combinations, particularly in the midfield, to highlight the Big Green’s strengths this year. Ihensekhien changed position from forward to center back this year as part of that experimentation.  

The Big Green returns to action at home on Oct. 5 against the United States Military Academy. The matchup should provide another good, early test for the team, as West Point defeated Harvard 34-10 earlier this month.