Women’s rugby ends season on narrow semifinal loss to Harvard

by Kaitlyn Lees | 11/11/19 2:05am

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Ariana Ramsey scored two tries in the game, but the Big Green fell just short.

by Courtesy of Doug Austin / The Dartmouth Athletics Department

In a rematch of last year’s national championship final, Harvard University edged Dartmouth women’s rugby out of a chance to defend its 2018 title by a single point on Saturday afternoon in Cambridge. 

The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association semifinal was a competitive matchup between the No. 2 Crimson and the No. 3 Big Green, marking the third time the two teams have faced off this season. In the last matchup, Dartmouth handily defeated Harvard 41-22 to take team’s fourth the Ivy Rugby championship. With the loss 23-22 loss on Saturday, Dartmouth’s fall rugby season comes to a close with an overall even record of 3-3. 

Going into the game, the team continued the same processes they have been working on all season that lead them to victory a few weeks ago against Harvard and focused on fine-tuning the little things. Kristin Bitter ’23 said she felt that the team was able to accomplish its mental goal prior to the game Saturday and had firmly established the unity and connection that they felt had been lacking earlier in the season. She added that the team had seen significant improvement over the season since its first scrimmage against Concordia College and the first loss to Harvard. 

“We knew our game and the potential level we could play at, which is what we did when we beat Harvard,” Bitter said. “We knew we had to play to that standard, which I thought we did yesterday.” 

Head coach Katie Dowty felt that the team’s increase “rugby IQ” was the highest it had been all season going into this final faceoff against Harvard — but that would ultimately not prove enough for the team to overcome the Crimson. 

Dartmouth had the lead up until the final minute of the game, when Harvard was able to come back to pull off the win. The game started with eight scoreless minutes, before Harvard capitalized on a penalty kick to take the lead by three. After being held up at the try line, Idia Ihensekhien ’21 scored a try to give Dartmouth its first lead of the game at 5-3. The Big Green maintained this two-point advantage until the 33-minute mark, when Ihensekhien scored her second try of the game and Bitter provided a conversion to put the Big Green ahead by nine. Before half time, Harvard scored its first try of the game to cut Dartmouth’s lead to five, and the first half concluded with Dartmouth up 12-8.

Just one minute into the second half, another score from Harvard gave the Crimson a one-point advantage. 

Dartmouth came back strong, though, with Ihensekhien assisting Ariana Ramsey ’22’s first try of the game to regain a four point lead. Ihensekhien and Ramsey teamed up again for Ramsey’s second try, which put the Big Green ahead by nine. Dowty would note after the game that she was particularly proud of how the team was able to beat Harvard several times at the scrum. 

Dartmouth’s strong defense, led by Becca Jane Rosko ’20, kept Harvard scoreless for over 20 minutes. However, the Crimson were eventually able to narrow the score to 22-20. With only a minute left in the game, Harvard took advantage of the fortunate location of a penalty call against Dartmouth. The penalty gave Harvard the option to kick for three points, which they successfully executed. In the end, it came down to time to take a one point lead, 23-22. With the clock running down, the Big Green was unable to mount a comeback effort, but fell just short of victory as time ran out. 

Both Bitter and Dowty identified penalties as a critical factor in the game. 

“They really did everything that we had planned to do but we were really on the wrong side of the penalty count, 13 to four,” Dowty said. “It’s tough to win a game when you’re down in the penalty count by that much.”  

Although the season did not end the way the Big Green had hoped, the team can still able to take positives from the fall campaign. In addition to regaining the title of Ivy League champions, the Big Green remains one of the top ranked rugby programs in the country. Bitter, Ihensekhien and Ramsey all came through big for the Dartmouth in providing points offensively throughout the season. But the team, Bitter said, felt impact of missing injured players as well as Lily Durbin ’20 and Emily Henrich ’22, who missed the season for training to make the 2020 Olympics team. 

“Aside from scoreboard, the season taught us that it’s just really important to be proud of your performance,” Dowty said. “We felt really proud of ours and the growth we’ve experienced this season.”