BY STEPHEN WOOD
The women’s club rugby team went as far as taking turf from its home field with it to the Ivy League championship this weekend, and though the action unfolded in Providence, the Tigers played as if they were back in Old Nassau. For the first time since 2005, they won the Ivy League tournament. Playing at Brown after Princeton’s bid to host the tournament was rejected, the Tigers demolished Radcliffe to earn a spot in the final, in which they defeated the Bears 22-17.
“This was the kind of game that makes old coaches worry about the condition of their heart,” head coach Emil Signes told parents and alumnae of the team in an email after the game. “But it was a true championship caliber game.”
Radcliffe – some of Harvard’s women’s teams bear the name of the women’s college that became part of Harvard in 1999 – managed to put up only five points to Princeton’s 49 in the Tigers’ first match of the tournament on Saturday. Things were not so easy against Brown.
“We knew that they were going to be a very physical team, but as long as we were just as physical as they were, we had better rugby skills,” senior captain Olivia Garard said.
The Bears got on the board with a try just 41 seconds into play. The Tigers got back into the game in the 21st minute, when junior Dot Mittow scored on a pushover try from a scrum.
Sophomore Kelsey Henderson followed up 10 minutes later with Princeton’s second try, and the Tigers got a little help from across the pond at the very end of the first half when Oxford exchange student Madeleine Karn, a senior, blocked a kick and managed to get the ball to junior Lelabari Giwa-Ojuri for another try. After a conversion by Lauren Rhode ’12, a graduate student, the first half ended with Princeton up 17-5.
The Bears did not go quietly, however, and made up the deficit in short order to tie the game at 17 with 15 minutes into the second half. Garard and Signes both chalked Brown’s scores up to miscommunication on the part of the Tigers.
“The tries that they did score were when we let up, and they capitalized on our mistakes,” Garard said.
With about seven minutes left, Rhode was tackled while carrying the ball but managed to get it down in the in-goal to give Princeton a 22-17 lead. Focusing on ball control, the Tigers were able to prevent another comeback. They won the scrum on the final play, and with it, the Ivy championship.
“We had been rocking the scrums the whole day, so we never gave them a stable platform from which to win the ball,” Garard said.
As the winner of the Ivy League tournament, the Tigers will receive an automatic bid to the U.S. Round of 16 (dubbed the “Sweet 16” but not officially called this as it is not an NCAA event), which will take place in Pittsburgh in two weeks. They found out Monday that they will be facing Army in the first round.
“All of the military academies are always very physical and very fit teams, which definitely counts for rugby,” Garard said. “We’re looking forward to that, and we know that we have what it takes. It’s just a matter of executing.”