Photo: Melissa Barker (see more)
American International College (AIC) played its first official game in fall 2010, featuring future Eagle prop Jess Davis and coached by Josh Macy. In 2012, the Yellow Jackets hired a full-time coach in Mel Denham, and then Dimitri Efthimiou took the reins in 2015 for the program’s first varsity season in the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA). Peter Lang then stepped in for fall 2016 and remained in charge through 2017. That post now belongs to Tara Roberts, the team’s fifth head coach in nine years, and who debuts in NIRA’s official season, fall 15s, this Saturday.
“It was clear to me coming in that consistency and commitment to the program was paramount,” Roberts explained. “The program ultimately belongs to the players. In-season, they are active every day, sometimes twice a day. That being said, buy-in from them and them is pivotal and that means giving them the same things that we are asking for.”
A former social worker and carpenter, Roberts was working with a bridge construction company when the AIC coaching vacancy appeared. Roberts was officially hired on February 1, 2018, and immediately started working with the team for its spring 7s season while simultaneously starting a recruiting campaign for the subsequent season.
“It was a challenge, but I jumped in head first and did it. And I’m feeling a lot more up-to-speed now,” Roberts said of a busy year. “Over the summer I went to a NIRA meeting at Quinnipiac. It’s nice to have so many female coaches – nothing against the few male coaches we have – but it’s a great atmosphere and collaborative. We realized that we’ve got to work together to get to 40 teams and NCAA championship status.”
Roberts recruited seven players for the class of 2022 and is excited about the talent that has relocated to Springfield, Mass. Northern California and Connecticut contributed two players apiece, while Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina also have a representative in the black and yellow.
All of the first-years have prior rugby experience, and they’ll join a squad that’s led by captains Siale Alatini (sophomore), Ally Pothier (junior) and Beth Harvey (senior). Roberts acknowledges the trio’s raw talent but looks to the leaders as example-setters, who embody the style of game AIC wants to play and who strategize with teammates for means to get there.
“I think they enjoy having a different coaching style. I give them a framework for the style we want to play, but beyond that, I want them to be decision-makers and try different things,” Roberts said of the coach-player dynamic.
“We’re more trying to look at what our process is than specific goals,” the coach looked toward this season. “Last year they had some trouble with attrition over the season based on their schedule and the numbers they had. So we want to find a balance between being challenged and developing, while sustaining the level and intensity we’re playing at. We have a few underclassmen in pivotal positions and we want to give them time and space to develop so in a couple years they can lead the way.”
AIC kicks off its season against Colby-Sawyer, a club-turned-varsity program that debuted in NIRA last weekend. The New Hampshire team officially took a forfeit win against Molloy, which had the numbers for a 12s game. AIC has been training for a month against no competition and is eager to see how this year’s squad looks. Saturday’s match will mark the first time Roberts has seen the team play 15s. The hope is that a new era of stability and consistency is underway.
“It’s a small school, but it’s our small school,” Roberts said. “It’s a very tight-knit community and the vibe is that everyone is enjoying it.”
Across the rest of the league, Harvard beat Quinnipiac 32-19 in week one; Dartmouth topped Notre Dame College 76-5 in Ohio; Mount St. Mary’s shut out Sacred Heart 76-0; and LIU Post rallied for a 36-29 win over visiting Castleton.