Five women’s rugby players earn all-NIRA postseason honors

by Kaitlyn Lees and Carl Ufongene | 4/28/20 2:05am

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Five players from the women's rugby team earned national postseason honors from the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association on April 17.

Source: Courtesy of Alex Conway

After reaching the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association semifinals this fall, five players from the women’s rugby team received postseason honors on April 17. Idia Ihensekhien ’21 and Ariana Ramsey ’22 were named to the All-NIRA Tier 1 Team while Kristin Bitter ’23, Sophia Haley ’22 and Marin Pennell ’21 received honorable mentions. Although unable to play the spring season, the Big Green followed up its 2018 NIRA Championship by winning the 2019 Ivy Rugby Championship and advancing to the NIRA Championship semifinals, where Dartmouth fell just short in a one-point loss to Harvard University.

Women’s rugby head coach Katie Dowty had nothing but praise when describing the NIRA team inductees, noting that there were not any particular standout games for the players, but instead, sustained excellence.

“[Ihensekhien] has such an adept knowledge for the game, and she’s such a powerful player,” Dowty said. “[Ramsey] is lightning fast, and she has a joy for the game. Her play style matches her personality.”

Ihensekhien found out about making the All-NIRA team through a text from a former teammate. This marks her second consecutive year receiving the award, formerly called NIRA All-American.

While Ihensekhien was used to her role as prop during the 2018-2019 season, this year Dowty called on Ihensekhien to play multiple positions, including inside center, outside center and eight. Ihensekhien took this change in stride and improved from her successful sophomore year. This year, she scored 45 points and nine tries, exactly tripling her season totals from last year.  Her change in position also led to more of a leadership role on the field, as it put the ball in her hands more often and enabled her to direct game flow. 

She said that it was an honor to be named to the All-NIRA team for a second straight year.

“It means that my hard work is not only appreciated but also recognized,” Ihensekhien said.

Ramsey, who was also named to the All-NIRA Tier 1 team, said that she was surprised when she saw herself tagged in NIRA’s Instagram post announcing the honors. Having suffered a shoulder injury last year, she said that she believes the award shows the hard work she has put into her game and into recovering from surgery.

“I think it’s really important that I was able to come back and still play at my fullest potential,” Ramsey said.

Playing wing and scrum half, Ramsey scored 50 points this season — the second best scoring record on the team — and led the team in tries with 10. With both Ramsey and Ihensekhien named to the Tier 1 team, the Big Green will undoubtedly have a strong offense next year.

“I think [Ihensekhien and I] do play very well together,” Ramsey said. “Anytime we score together, I feel like it’s perfect timing.”

The three Big Green players who received honorable mentions also made substantial contributions to the team last season. Bitter’s honorable mention comes after a successful freshman campaign, leading the team with 19 conversions and 66 points and putting up at least two points in each game this season. Bitter was also one of two Big Green freshmen chosen to participate in USA Rugby’s Winter Camp, along with Lauren Ferridge ’23. Haley and Pennell, the team’s captain, scored five points each for the team this season and both scored in the Big Green’s 52-38 win over Quinnipiac University last October.

Looking ahead to the fall, Dowty said that she hopes the Big Green will continue its success from the past few seasons.

“We always look to play the highest level of women’s rugby possible,” she said. “That’s always been our goal.”