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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Two women’s rugby players nominated for MA Sorensen Award

Asialeata Meni ’25 and Cindy Taulava ’27 were nominated for the MA Sorensen Award, which honors the nation’s top collegiate women’s rugby player.

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On March 8, women’s rugby players Asialeata Meni ’25 and Cindy Taulava ’27 were announced as nominees for the MA Sorensen Award, awarded to the top collegiate women’s rugby player in the country.

Meni and Taulava are among 17 players selected by a panel of coaches for their outstanding skills on the pitch, according to the Washington Athletic Club of Seattle, which sponsors the award. 

Women’s rugby head coach Kathryn Dowty said Meni and Taulava are “both leaders on the team, and in years to come, they’ll be drivers of the program.”

Following the nominations, the public then voted for four candidates as finalists — with coach and player votes weighted more heavily — according to the Washington Athletic Club of Seattle. The public voting closed on March 31, and a panel of coaches will now select one of those four candidates as the winner. The winner will be presented with the trophy at a gala event at the Washington Athletic Club of Seattle on June 8.

Taulava said she was “surprised” when she found out she had been nominated for the award.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this as a first-year,” Taulava said. “It was all with the help of the team, really. Everything that we’ve done this season, we worked for together.”

Dowty said Taulava played for the U.S. U20 Team in 2023. This year, she was invited to the senior women’s national team camp, an ID camp open to the top 30 U.S.-based players of any age, according to Dowty. 

“It’s quite amazing that [Taulava] was able to make the impact that she did in her freshman year,” Dowty said. 

Taulava said she started playing rugby her sophomore year of high school in Castro Valley, California. 

“I played one game and one tournament, and then the pandemic happened,” Taulava said. “I thought that I was going to fall out of playing rugby and just find another sport when I had to go back to school, but I ended up sticking with it.”

Before coming to Dartmouth, Taulava spent a gap year playing with the Sydney University rugby team in Australia.

“It’s a different structure out there, so the team included older girls as well as younger girls,” Taulava said. “It was a really cool experience.”

Meni’s rugby journey also began during her sophomore year of high school, when her uncle founded a women’s rugby team. Although she played just one season in her hometown of Cypress, California before the pandemic hit, Meni chose to continue to play rugby through high school before being recruited to play collegiate rugby. 

When she first joined the Dartmouth team, Meni said she felt inexperienced.

“I would consider my freshman year a breakout season because the coaching staff at the time really believed in me and changed my position from a back to a forward,” Meni said. 

For the past two years, Meni has been selected for the all-NIRA first team, recognizing her as the top player in her position in the league, according to Dowty.

This winter, Meni said she played for the Samoan tag rugby team and competed in the 2024 Pacific Tag Cup. She said that playing with the Samoan team prevented her from growing burned out and provided a unique opportunity to explore rugby outside of the United States.

“Rugby is very big in Pacific Island communities,” Dowty said. “There’s only a handful of Pacific [Islander] students at Dartmouth, and for these two to be thriving and representing their communities like that is really special.”

Meni and Taulava were two of the team’s top scorers this season as well as top tacklers, according to Dowty. 

“Their positions — hooker and prop — are not typically try scoring positions,” Dowty said. “So it speaks volumes to just how devastating they are as attackers and what an amazing threat they are on the pitch.” 

Meni said last season’s loss in the championship was “discouraging,” especially after the team had gotten used to winning. 

Nonetheless, Meni said she is excited about the upcoming sevens season. Sevens games are naturally more fast-paced than 15s games. Meni said she believes the team is “super suited” for sevens because of their speed. 

“[We] can really demonstrate our skill more than we were able to this past fall,” she said. “Most of the 27s are sevens players, so I’m really excited to see the morale boost that comes with this sevens season.”

With no home games this season, the team’s first competition was the Tropical 7s Tournament in Tampa, Florida on March 29, where the team picked up six wins. 

Though Meni and Taulava are focused on the upcoming season, both said they are honored by the nomination and hopeful about receiving the MA Sorensen award.  

“It would really mean a lot and show people you don’t have to start playing when you’re young,” Taulava said. “I started my sophomore year … You can really do whatever you want, just as long as you stick with it and are willing to work with what you have and overcome obstacles.”