Women’s rugby players train with U.S. National Team

by Will Ennis | 10/20/20 2:00am

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Source: Courtesy of Sophia Haley

Four student-athletes on the Dartmouth women’s rugby team are spending part of their fall term training full-time with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Athletes invited to train with the National Team will compete for a spot in the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Emily Henrich ’22 is in the fifth week of an eight-week daily training program with the Women’s National Team 15s at Infinity Park in Colorado, the home of the U.S. National Rugby teams. Kristin Bitter ’23 and Sophia Haley ’22 will join Henrich for one-week mini camps at the same location, while Ariana Ramsey ’22 is training with the Women’s National Team 7s in Chula Vista, California. 

Given COVID-19 regulations, the eight-week camp eased into training at the beginning, according to Henrich. She said that the players are being tested weekly, and the team has progressed in stages from exclusively non-contact workouts to small group activities with masks. If all goes well, she said that they will advance to larger group workouts with up to 16 people in the coming weeks.

Henrich said that she was particularly excited about participating in the training program given that she could attend it while continuing her education virtually instead of sacrificing a term of school to take advantage of the training. Henrich, the winner of the 2019 M.A. Sorenson award for top women’s collegiate rugby player, had previously taken her sophomore season off to train with the 7s program in Tokyo.

“It just is such a cool opportunity,” Henrich said. “Especially after kind of being on my own training from April through August, it's really great to see all the same faces and get back to actually playing rugby.”

Haley, who was invited to the mini-camp for forwards, said that she has been learning from the veteran members of the program.

“It's been a while since I've played rugby, just with everything that's going on, so I'm really just enjoying getting back into it and playing with very experienced players,” Haley said. “It's my first exposure at this level, so that's really exciting.”

Both Henrich and Haley credited their Dartmouth coaches with preparing them to compete at the next level.

“My coaches really saw potential in me,” Haley said. “They really lifted me up and gave me a lot of confidence, and they taught me so much.”

Henrich praised the supportive environment her coaches have fostered and their unwavering support of her and her goals in the sport.

“The high-performance environment that [head coach] Katie Dowty and [assistant coach Stacey] Bridges put on is second to none,” Henrich said. “… The support they've given me to encourage me to take time off from school and pursue this dream has been amazing.” 

Dowty said that her coaching staff always encourages its players to pursue opportunities to play at the highest level when they arise.

“We're really fortunate with the way that the women's collegiate game is evolving,” Dowty said. “We are one of the top Division I NCAA programs, and so we've attracted top level players from around the world. … We're just really grateful that Dartmouth is a great place to come play rugby, and we pride ourselves on being able to help develop international-caliber athletes.”

According to Haley, the next step in the World Cup selection process is an invitational Stars and Stripes Game next month. The players that will compete will be selected from the training cohort at USA Rugby.

Henrich said that she is hoping for a competitive rugby season this spring so that she will have another chance to compete for Dartmouth again before, ideally, being on the World Cup roster next fall.

“I know the work I'm putting in out here will put me in the best position to compete at the highest level in the spring,” she said. “I think the work I'm doing out here will help me so much and I can bring a lot back to the team in terms of what it takes to get to the next level and push our rugby knowledge and just advance our game.”