Quinnipiac’s Class of 2018 embraces last year’s trophy / Photo: Donna Doherty
There’s so much rugby this time of year that rankings serve the dual purpose of tracking well performing teams and understanding the many moving parts of fall rugby. As far as the college game goes, the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) and National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) will name national champions in November and December, respectively. And DI and DII colleges will name USA Rugby Fall Champions in December – the counterpart to spring championships.
TRB aims to keep those distinctions clear and thus rankings do not intermix teams from different competitions. Those cross-league games will certainly be highlighted, but it’s tough to draw conclusions from a game where one team is building toward a November peak and the other is building toward a May peak.
The varsity league kicks off this weekend and the two big changes are the addition of Colby-Sawyer and the removal of Central Washington. The Wildcats will still count toward NCAA member teams, but a western competition made more sense for the isolated program.
NIRA PRE-SEASON RANKINGS
1. Quinnipiac – 3-time national champion. Graduated a stellar class that included Rugby World Cup Sevens Eagle Ilona Maher (TRB’s favorite athlete of 2017-18) but has restocked with lots of talent, including GHSAA Allison Koenig, Clara Lemal-Brown, Matja Saarenheimo-VanDerHorst and Madison Jumper. (HC: Becky Carlson, AC: Colleen Doherty, Brad Dufek)
2. Dartmouth – The Big Green beat Quinnipiac in last year’s season opener before falling 29-22 in the national final. The team will miss a key striker in Lilly Durbin this fall, but watch for senior captain Camille Johnson to lead a skilled squad bolstered by notable newcomers Sophia Haley, Emily Henrich and Ariana Ramsey, among others. (HC: Katie Dowty, AC: Stacey Bridges)
3. Harvard – The Crimson finished just shy of Dartmouth in the NIRA semifinals – 17-12 loss – and much of that experience has returned. In fact the senior and junior classes are big and account for two-thirds of the roster. Only two freshmen have been added, but they’re significant: Sofie Fella, whose pedigree spans the globe, and Cassidy Bargell, one of the most prolific GHSAA players of the last couple years. (HC: Mel Denham, AC: Kimber Rozier)
4. Army – The Black Knights were hit by the injury bug last year and start the fall without a key playmaker, Bayleigh Gable. The senior class is small and punctuated by Zye Crittington, but the junior and sophomore classes are large. Third-year Gio Ferguson-Lewis is captain, while freshmen like Alex DiMarco, Kaitlyn Schwarting, McKenzie Borchers and more look to break into the squad. (HC: Bill LeClerc, AC: Laura Vivolo, Steve Lewis)
5. Norwich – The Cadets are sampling the spectrum of NIRA teams this fall – from the league-leading Quinnipiac to first-year Colby-Sawyer, which will provide the squad the opportunity to grow and test itself. The team bid farewell to NIRA All-Americans Vic Olchowoj and Denisse Zambon but still has the ever-powerful Sheila Decker leading the way. (HC: Austin Hall, AC Connor Keating)
6. AIC – Junior Allyson Pothier captains this year’s team, which includes younger sister Kassidy, one of seven freshmen currently reflected on the roster. The fall will mark head coach Tara Roberts first 15s league season, which follows on the heels of a successful, momentum-building 7s season. AIC will miss the influence of players like Shamira Robles, but watch for Elizabeth Harvey to light it up. (HC: Tara Roberts, AC: Marcus Gordon-Lewis)
7. Notre Dame College – The Falcons will miss influential players like Karmin Macedo and Emilia Ferrara, but a solid core of returners that includes Danielle Walko-Siua, Marcaya Bailous, Jessica Fox, Meckena Hultin and more will provide expert leadership. Freshman to watch? Midwest Thunderbird Saher Hamdan. (HC: Luke Markovich, AC: Tommy Walsh, Kahlid Williams)
8. Brown – The Bears are already ahead of where they started last year, as the roster currently sports 22 athletes. Although the recruiting classes have been small, newcomers are quality additions, and this year is no different with Colorado star Gemma Ryu, Northeast standout Zoe Belge and Land Park breakout Zy Thomas. Alumna Oksana Goretaya has joined head coach Kathy Flores’ staff.
9. West Chester – The Golden Rams have added seven freshmen per the current roster, including Rugby PA all-stars like Kylie Corless, Reagan Copeland and Tina Kimmich, and Morris leader Lauren Madalian. West Chester has finished between the tier 1 and 2 teams, and this year’s schedule is a good mix of both opponents. (HC: Tony DeRemer)
10. New England – The Nor’easters are the reigning NIRA Tier 2 champions and set the standard after a 57-14 final win over Bowdoin last year. Head coach Ashley Potvin-Fulford has assembled a Tier 2 schedule, with the exception of the annual Norwich match, which pits UNE against the coach’s alma mater.
11. Bowdoin – Of all the NIRA teams, Bowdoin plays the most diverse schedule, adding Vassar College, Colby and Roger Williams to its NIRA lineup. Seniors Elizabeth D’Angelo and Dana Peirce lead a squad that has welcomed five new freshmen from China and four different states. (HC: MaryBeth Mathews, AC: Bob Mathews, James Read)
12. Sacred Heart – The Pioneers added seven new players – five freshmen and two sophomores – to the roster for a total of 19 athletes (according to the current lineup). Head coach Michelle Reed (AC: Jennifer Salomon) indicated that first-year Sophie Hale (Cheshire) has already secured that No. 8 spot, and that returners Tessa Buckley and Isabel Cuddy are the attack threats.
13. Mount St. Mary’s – A healthy freshman class has been inducted into The Mount, with notables like Maya Grassi and Ubaida Ahmed leading the way (and watch for graduate student Lauren Judkins!). Head coach Farrah Douglas (AC: Maggie Myles) has compiled a tough schedule that includes games against Notre Dame College, West Chester and DI independent Navy.
14. Colby-Sawyer – The New Hampshire team is the NIRA newcomer this year, and head coach Ken Pape built some momentum through a successful NSCRO spring season. A couple of Tier 1 teams are on the eight-game schedule – Norwich, AIC – and the Chargers have the potential to really jump up the rankings.
15. Molloy – Numbers has seen the Lions play a lot of 7s but the roster currently sports 15 athletes, so maybe some 15s are in the near future. Head coach Melissa Olman signed four freshmen this year and will look to stalwarts like Caroline Nickels and Siobhan Coady for leadership.
16. LIU Post – The Pioneers are back for a second year in NIRA, and head coach John Royal’s recruiting efforts have seen the current roster expand to 15 players. Freshman to watch? Bella Lubsey from Wisconsin’s Brookfield Bruisers.
17. Castleton – The Spartans are in their third-ever season and looking for that first program win. Head coach Frank Graziano is optimistic this fall and will look toward senior Savanah Graves for leadership. Watch for Julia May on the defensive front and Autumn LaPlant as a scoring threat.