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Is 2018 the Year for Vassar?

  • 29 Nov 2018
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Photos courtesy Vassar College Athletics

For the previous three years, Vassar College has improved upon its final placing. In 2015, the Brewers advanced to the final stages of the USA Rugby DII College Fall Championship and finished fourth overall. The Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school ended the 2016 season in third, and in 2017 Vassar fell two points short of the title in one of the most intense games of the year. The question becomes: Will that positive trajectory continue in 2018?

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“In terms of experience, we will be looking especially to our senior class to lead the team this weekend, as this marks our fourth consecutive trip to the final-four tournament,” explained Makena Emery, one of three senior captains. “We hope to build on the experiences we’ve gained from the last three years as we once again take a shot at the [fall] title.”

Much of that four-year leadership is consolidated in the pack. Seniors Katharine Sworden, Marron McConnell and Kaitlin Prado form a formidable front row, and have equal experience driving behind them in lock Miranda Scarlata. And then senior co-captains Oshana Reich and Jennie To work together at No. 8 and scrumhalf, respectively.

“But a principle we’ve always held ourselves to is that we are one, cohesive unit that relies on every single member of the team to show up to practice, to games, to screenings,” Emery continued. “We’re not just the senior class, we’re not just the 15 starters; we are one, cohesive unit that prides ourselves on playing the best rugby we can play, both for one’s self and the 37 other women on this team.”

The flyhalf explained that a lot of energy was placed on developing depth this season, curating multi-faceted athletes who can play several positions. That process paid dividends as injuries impacted some crucial positions and players were asked to step up.

“This focus on depth has really been the driving force of our success so far this fall season,” Emery asserted. “Changes to the lineup have allowed for a great number of our players to get much more playing time than in years past.”

The DII Tri-State conference provided the competition needed to build flexibility into the lineup. However, senior co-captain To did lament the omission of Albany, as it’s “usually the toughest competition we face in our regional conference,” the scrumhalf noted. After winning the league, Vassar beat Delaware 96-0 in the Fall Round of 32 and then Maine 44-12 in the subsequent stage.

“The team that gave us the biggest push was definitely Bryant in the [Fall] Round of 8,” To recalled the 41-24 win. “We came out of that game feeling excited to reach final four again and proud of our performance. And I think that we have fostered an environment in which we are constantly striving to learn from previous mistakes, and that constructive self-criticism is a key aspect of our improvement between each game.”

To has been Vassar’s starting scrumhalf for the previous three seasons and knows that only playing in the final four can prepare a team for the final four.

“The games leading up to final four truly cannot compare to the next step of the competition, so the fact that it is the same four teams at nationals and that we have relatively recent experience playing Coast Guard and Winona allows us to prepare for the upcoming games better than ever before,” To looked ahead to the fall semifinal against the Academy team.

Specifically, Reich noted that Vassar will have to dominate set plays and quickly organize on defense to contend with Coast Guard on Saturday. But as all good players and good teams embrace: It all comes down to how well you can execute your own game.

“I think there’s always an eagerness to play to the best of our ability and we will always hold ourselves to a high quality of play, regardless of the outcome of the previous season,” Reich dispelled the notion that last season’s final result inspired extra motivation. “We are a team of incredibly motivated players — we know what we are capable of and we are driven to not only maintain our level of play but also always push ourselves to keep improving.

“All this to say that we are, of course, extremely eager to get back to the final four and show how we’ve grown as a team,” the No. 8 concluded.

Charlotte, N.C., hosts the fall championship and FloRugby will live-stream the weekend games. Vassar plays Coast Guard at 4 p.m. ET, and Winona State and Cincinnati will play at 2 p.m. The 3rd place and final match will be held Sunday.

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