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Virginia Tech 4-0 in Mason-Dixon

  • 22 Nov 2018

Photos: Heidi Tippet

With the addition of Queens University, the DI Mason-Dixon returned to 10 teams for the 2018-19 season, and thus North and South pools reformed. Traditionally, the North contests most if not all of its matrix matches in the fall, something new for teams that had played in the South pool. But Virginia Tech adapted well and ended the matrix season undefeated.

“Our team this year is better than it’s ever been and the irony with that is we have a very young team,” Virginia Tech president Kirn Kaur explained that nearly half of the 45-player roster is new to rugby.

Not so much ironic than unfortunate, Virginia Tech is undefeated without an official head coach this year. The Hokies have relied on alumni to step up and coach the team during previous seasons, but 2018-19 is being guided by an expanded player leadership group. Flyhalf Kaur and Collegiate All-American Jetta Owens captain the backs, and Gracie Pierce and Amelia Griese run the pack.

“The two-captain approach helps alleviate the pressure. Early on, the captains agreed that we needed to always appear as a unified front when delivering decisions to the team regardless of our individual opinions. This has worked well for us,” Kaur noted. “Additionally, we have been fortunate to have the support of three local coaches who have dedicated their time to help us improve.”

Philip Parks helped Virginia Tech’s 7s team last year and has been managing game-day activities, and Roanoke coach Garrett Thompson has been traveling to Blacksburg to help with general structure, backline mechanics and rookie education.

“Michael Lee has completely revamped our pack structure. He took mauls from a lineout, which we only ever learned to defend, and made them an effective tool we could use offensively,” Kaur credited the third volunteer coach. “Coach Mick focused in on the body mechanics of our front row to make our scrums lethal to the point of us winning most of our defensive scrums this fall. Outside of set pieces, he also helped to implement a new structure that focuses on testing the defense by our ball movement between the backs and pack.”

The team was rewarded on the pitch with wins against Navy, Pittsburgh, East Carolina, James Madison, and the big one: University of Virginia. Kaur polled the alumnae and estimated that it’s been 20 years since the last victory over UVA.

“Since freshman year playing UVA is the highlight of each season. They are our rivals and the Commonwealth Shield is on the line. And every year we have continued to close the gap and become more competitive,” Kaur zeroed in on the 38-17 win. “There was nothing I wanted more, my last year here, than to finally come out on top. This game single-handedly meant the most to the seniors and every year we all look forward to playing them, as we know that it will be a hard-fought match on both sides.”

Kaur described a sense of calm before the UVA match and a readiness to play its game.

“I contribute a lot of this to our preparation days and weeks leading up to the game,” Kaur explained the serenity before the UVA match. “Just a week before UVA, we had a match against ECU and we decided to use it as a dress rehearsal for how we wanted to play against UVA. We implemented the new structure and vowed to not win by our athleticism but by using the structure that we had been working towards all semester.”

UVA had played ECU to a 107-7 win the day before the Virginia Tech match, but UVA head coach Nancy Kechner credited the Hokies with good rugby played. A wave of support and congratulations from previous classes overwhelmed the current team, and Kaur knows the squad must avoid complacency now that a big goal has been achieved. Fortunately, the flyhalf has observed some key attributes in this year’s squad that will hopefully translate into continued improvements.

“I would say the difference between this year and previous years is our attitude, defense and game vision,” Kaur reflected. “Instead of watching the ball, the emphasis was on staying spread and marking players. This might seem like a trivial thing, but it required a lot of discipline and a new mindset. This was the first time we weren’t reacting to what was in front of us but being proactive and thinking a few plays ahead.”

Mason-Dixon plays a split season – meaning teams play matrix games in the fall and spring, and then members contest the conference playoffs in the spring. The league competes in the spring championship – the counterpart to the current DI fall championship underway – and the Hokies are a regular in that tournament.

“It is an exciting time for our team and everyone is ready to put in the work it takes to get be able to compete at the highest level possible,” Kaur concluded.

#VirginiaTech #MasonDixon

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