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Providence Still ‘Small But Mighty’

  • 19 Sep 2019

Providence has represented the Atlantic North at the DII club national championships for the previous three years, but this is not a story of a magnet club that trounces its local competition. Every year, Providence fights for players and victories in dense New England, and the team’s opening league match against Albany reiterated as much.

RELATED: New England DII Schedule & ResultsSept 14-15 Nationwide Results

“Providence has had the same story since I joined,” said Providence captain Tiara Mack, who joined the team in 2016 after graduating from Brown University. “We’re fortunate that in New England there are lots of opportunities to play at different levels. You can play for us or Boston; South Shore’s a new team that’s pulling players. … Providence has always had a small squad – in size and numbers – but we bring a lot of heart and love for the sport.”

The team formed in 2005 and a several founding members played well over a decade to ensure a certain level of success. At the end of last year, notables like Emily Hausman, Renee Astphan and Dana Ayoub moved on, but there are still active players like Anne Venner, Tiffany McCoy, Michelle Un and Ashley Hanson who carry on that “small but mighty” mentality. To boot, Kathy Flores, the former USA 15s and current Brown University head coach, has been leading Providence for the past five years. Mack, who joined Providence in 2016, is one of several Brown alumnae who stayed in-state for their senior club rugby. That combination of leadership and direction allows Providence to play more of an IQ game – versus brute strength – and be successful with it.

“People want to beat Providence, especially with us not moving up to DI,” Mack said. “We’re not ready [for DI]. We started the season with 12 players. We had 18 on the roster [against Albany] and two were brand new to rugby.”

Low numbers is a constant source of anxiety and was present last Saturday as Providence arrived in Albany for the DII New England opener.

“We haven’t played Albany since my first season with Providence. Most teams do play at a high level but they had a full B side team and 40 players on the field,” Mack said of initial intimidation. “That’s one of the biggest things in the back of our minds. When they have 30 girls consistently coming to practice and a developmental side, they’ll still have a full bench even when people are unavailable.

“We’re always nervous before the game,” the captain continued. “It’s, ‘Here we go again. We have 15 on the field and it’ll be the same people we’ll end the game with.’”

Providence set the tone of the first half and set up multiple goal-line attacks. But the Albany defense was impenetrable and withstood Providence’s punches. The Sirens held up at least five dive-over attempts to ground the ball. For all that possession, Providence exited the first half with an Anne Venner dropgoal and 3-0 lead.

“Then Albany in the second half answered with two tries in the first 20 minutes and we were struggling to catch up with that,” Mack said. “They were ready to fight and had fresh legs. … Albany was right in our face, punching right and left, and took control of the tempo – the same way we did in the first half.”

As Albany built a 12-3 lead, Providence moved some a young flanker to hooker and new wing to the loose forwards to account for first-half injuries. That affected the team’s flow as the pack adjusted, but Providence was also playing on the back foot.

Things started to click in the final 10 minutes of the match. Mack pointed to scrumhalf McCoy, who, “reads the field and opposition well, and is a vocal communicator that can organize the squad,” for the shift in control. Two tries from Naz Cardoso and Melissa Keene afforded the go-ahead points, 13-12, that held until regulation.

“It’s huge for us, especially with the new girls,” Mack said of the win’s significance.

A level of expectation has been set for new players, while some questions have been answered for returners.

“Is it still the same story as last year? Can we pull out a win, hitting low and double tackling when needed? Or will we succumb to bigger challenges,” Mack referenced pre-season musings. “That [win is] a good foot to start on and now we have momentum leading into the season. We have other big teams coming up but this game lets us know that we still got it.”

New England’s DII includes seven teams and Worcester currently leads the standings at 2-0 with wins over Albany (26-5) and Charles River (38-12). The Shamrocks are Providence’s biggest competition and finished runner-up in the Atlantic North last year. The two will face each other on Oct. 12.

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