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Competition Options Influence Norwich’s Shift from NIRA to NCR

  • 08 Feb 2024
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Norwich rugby

PRESS RELEASE (edited) – The Norwich University women’s rugby program has recently announced that it will be moving and competing as a Division I program in National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) organization starting in the fall of 2024. Norwich women have played in an NCAA emerging sports conference since 2013, including in the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) Division III Conference, and will continue their commitment as an NCAA program in the growing effort to bring rugby into NCAA status.

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“In making the decision to move our women’s rugby program from NIRA to NCR, the primary reason was the student-athlete experience, in particular as it relates to scheduling,” said Ed Hockenbury, Director of Athletics. “NCR offers varied levels of play, a greater number of potential opponents in our region, and significant opportunities for postseason play, all within a historically strong organization that supports coaches and athletes while helping to grow and develop the sport.

“We also look forward to having both our men’s and women’s programs compete in the same conference, where the rich history of rugby at Norwich not only helps strengthen NCR but also unifies our brand and helps us maintain our status as a premier institution in the sport of rugby,” Hockenbury added. “We very much appreciate our time with NIRA, and we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.”

In the fall of 2024, the women’s rugby program will enter its second season under the guidance of Head Coach Baylee Annis ’14. Annis, as a standout player on multiple national championship teams at Norwich, led the Cadets to the NIRA Semifinals in her first season leading the program, and secured one of the most thrilling wins in recent history in a 10-7 victory over the University of New Haven in early October. Annis leads the way with assistance from longtime coaches Austin Hall and Connor Keating.

 

 

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“Our student-athletes and coaching staff are thrilled for the opportunities that lie ahead in our move to NCR,” said Annis. “The support from alumni and the administration has been outstanding. The CRC 7s Tournament, All-Star pathways, featured Friday Night Rugby matches, and geographically closer competition will help set the tone for a new horizon of Norwich Rugby–and just in time to celebrate 40 years of women’s rugby at Norwich University.”

The realignment coincides with the 40th anniversary of the women’s rugby team, which has a rich history. Recently, the program celebrated the induction of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 women’s rugby teams into the Norwich Athletic Hall of Fame. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the 2013-14 team, which achieved a remarkable record of 40-0 and won multiple championships, including the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, the ACRA Division I National Tournament 15s Championship, and the ACRA 7s National Championships.

“NCR is thrilled to welcome Norwich women to our competition,” said Angelo Smarto, NCR Women’s Rugby Director and Division I & II Commissioner. “They have a historic program in 15s and 7s, and we are excited to provide a year-long platform for them to compete under Head Coach Baylee Annis.”

NCR was established in 2007 with the aim of supporting the growth and development of small college rugby. Today, it caters to men’s and women’s college rugby programs of all sizes.

“Norwich women’s rugby’s move to NCR Div. I, when it comes to scheduling, is both challenging and exciting,” said Bob Weggler, Director of Rugby and Head Men’s Rugby Coach. “We plan to compete with multiple teams located throughout New England. I am confident that Coach Baylee Annis and her teams will represent Norwich in NCR Div. I with the resiliency and competitiveness that Norwich Rugby is known for.”

NCR organizes major national championship events. It includes the women’s 15s National Championship held at the end of the fall season, the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s held in the spring, and the mid-year All-Star Tournaments that bring together the best players in the country.

“The Norwich University Scrum Alums strongly support the move back to Division I under … National Collegiate Rugby organization,” said Dennis Downey ’81, Scrum Alum President. “This move provides a number of opportunities, renewing longstanding rivalries with high-quality competition, connecting our brand of rugby to a strong alumni base in the Boston and Southern New England regions, and raising the visibility of Norwich Rugby with many of the rapidly growing youth programs around New England. This is a truly exciting move – the Scrum Alums are ‘With You’ and look forward to seeing the team in action!”

Norwich’s shift to the NCR will introduce new competitors to Northfield. One of these opponents will be featured during the conference’s Friday Night Rugby event, which will be livestreamed from Sabine Field. The game is scheduled to take place on a Friday night in late October.

The rugby programs have several exciting events planned for the upcoming year. During Homecoming weekend, the Cadets are hosting “A Legendary Legacy: 40 Years of Norwich Women’s Rugby,” a casual BBQ luncheon on Friday, Sep. 20, 2024, to kick off the opening of the 40th celebration of women’s rugby. The event will feature photography, video, and media exhibits on display in the Norwich Clubhouse. Additionally, the team is preparing for a dual international trip to Ireland with the men’s rugby team, scheduled for the spring of 2025.

The Cadets are set to complete their final year in NIRA Div. III during the upcoming spring season before moving up to NCR Div. I in the fall. To kick off the season, Norwich is hosting a Round Robin Scrimmage on Mar. 30 on Sabine Field, followed by the Chris Munn 7s Tournament on Apr. 7, in which New England College, the University of New England, and Middlebury College will also participate. In April, the Cadets will play away games against the University of New England and Bowdoin College.

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