Reigning NIRA champions aim for similar success in 7s season
Now almost two months removed from clinching its second consecutive NIRA 15s championship, the women’s rugby team sets its sights on the spring.
In November, women’s rugby captured the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association 15s championship for the second year in a row. The win — rugby’s third in four appearances in the title game — also clinched a second consecutive undefeated 15s season for the team.
During the 15s fall season, Dartmouth won all nine of its games — including a collection of dominant showings, like a 79-0 shutout of Mount St. Mary’s University, a 95-10 blowout over Princeton University at home and another shutout, 85-0, against Brown University. Dartmouth entered the NIRA semifinal game 7-0 and glided to victory 47-14 over Quinnipiac University.
After closely defeating Ivy League rival Harvard University 31-29 on the road earlier in the season, the Big Green once again met the Crimson in the NIRA Division I Championship match at home on Burnham Field.
For Emily Henrich ’22, a fifth-year senior who was a member of the 2018 squad that captured the Big Green’s first title, the game meant more than just the one win.
“Having the game at home felt like a full circle moment because in 2018 we won the championship at home,” Henrich said. “It was a really sentimental moment to relive freshman year and especially because Harvard's really our big rival.”
Kristin Bitter ’23 recalled how she felt the moment the clock hit zero and the Big Green officially secured the championship.
“Once the final whistle blew, I think we were all relieved because it was definitely a really tough game,” Bitter said. “Everybody ran onto the field and celebrated, but a lot of the players were pretty, pretty tired. Once we lifted up the trophy, everybody was extremely excited, and we forgot that we were tired.”
For some players, the excitement of the win is still setting in, even now. Cassie Depner ’25 said it was exciting when the team realized a repeat championship was possible during the season.
“When you go into college sports your goal is to win a national championship at one point,” Depner said. “Nobody's initial goal is, in fact, we're gonna win two national championships back to back — so when we had that opportunity, we knew how unique it was and how special that was.”
After the season ended, Dartmouth players dominated the All-NIRA Rugby DI roster. Out of 15 total players selected, Big Green players made up the majority of the roster with eight. Among those selected was Ariana Ramsey ’22, who was also named the championship game’s MVP and competed for Team USA at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics — the program’s first-ever Olympian. The team with the second most members on the All-NIRA first team was Harvard with three.
Around 3,000 people attended the 15s championship game to cheer on the Big Green, and the team expressed appreciation for all the support from the college and community members.
“It was awesome to see the amount of support that we had,” Depner said. “Even though it was cold and in the middle of finals, we still sold out the stadium virtual tickets.”
With this win under its belts, the team is already looking towards the spring 7s season. After placing second in the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship in 2022, the team is ready for redemption. Henrich noted that the winter is a crucial building period for the team.
“This winter is a big opportunity for us; we have a lot of girls on campus, and winter consists of building that fitness baseline and team building,” Henrich said. “Because rugby's a rising sport, we always take walk-ons in the fall, so, for the walk-ons, the winter is a good opportunity for them to really start to understand the game.”
According to Allie Amerson ’25, there are crucial differences between the 7s and 15s seasons. 7s has 14 total players on the field while 15s has 30; 15s is longer with 80 minutes of play while 7s has a faster pace at 14 minutes total. Amerson said that where 15s is a more “physical” game, “speed” is crucial to 7s. She noted that Dartmouth has traditionally excelled at the physical aspects of the game, leading to its recent domination in 15s.
As the team prepares forthe 7s season, Amerson said she and her teammates plan to alter their training to increase their agility for future games.
“I think that this year we are a faster team than we were last year for both 15s and 7s and that is definitely an advantage in 7s, as it's a much quicker game,” Depner said.
The team still plans to look back at its championship season for lessons as to how to take on challenges.
“I think we just showed in the championship game how much we really cared for each other,” Henrich said. “If we just keep that up, making sure we're prioritizing friendship and family, I think we’ll keep having the success we’ve had.”