After a perfect regular season, the women’s rugby team finally met its match in West Point, N.Y.
The Elis lost, 22-7, to No. 11 Army Saturday. Although the game ended the team’s playoff run, it capped the Bulldogs’ best season in history, which included five league wins. Despite the loss, the Elis said they are encouraged by the strong corps of younger players and the team’s burgeoning success.
In the lower section of their division, the Bulldogs were forced to play mostly second-tier teams all season. But several landmark victories, including wins over reigning Division II national champion Providence College and the University of Connecticut, helped them on their way to an undefeated season that granted them a spot in the playoffs and membership in the New England Rugby Football Union’s top group.
Come playoff time, Yale joined three other teams from the lower tier to face the more established programs of Division I’s upper echelon.
In the first round against Brown, a top-tier squad, the team wasted no time in making it known that the divisional split is of little importance. Haley Warden ’08, who joined the team last fall, said she hopes the victory over the Bears will expose the divisional discrepancies.
“Beating Brown, 46-0, says something about the potential of our team,” she said. “And the way we beat Brown so solidly should be an indication of how inaccurate the ranking system can be.”
Several key injuries during that contest sent the Elis limping into West Point. Patty Breech ’06 and Katarzyna Wegrzyn ’07 were forced to sit out, and co-captain Phil Thomson ’06 played against the Black Knights despite her injury.
The game’s first half ended scoreless, and Warden said the team’s confidence and strong play to open the contest surprised the Black Knights. But three minutes into the second half, Army scored on the first of its four tries. Despite the efforts of Emily Roller ’07, who scored the only Yale try of the afternoon, Army played a sound second half and won, 22-7.
The loss halted a historic season. While there was obvious disappointment, several players said the team was proud to have put on such a good showing all season against teams such as Connecticut, Providence, Brown and Army.
“The captains handled the loss very well,” said flanker Lucy Sorensen ’09. “They were really very positive and told everyone they should be so proud of what we did this season. I think the coaches and the captains recognized there were a lot of things that were out of their control.”
Sorensen said such a strong showing also prompted the Army head coach to say that Yale was the best team the Black Knights had faced all season. For the Elis’ efforts on the season, the team was given honorable mention in Goff On Rugby’s national top 20 rankings. Such recognition has been building for years, and the move to the next level of the NERFU is seen by some players as the culmination of several years’ recruiting. Flanker Simone Berkower ’09 said the freshmen are excited to be a part of the construction.
“The way our coach put it, he has been building up to this for a while,” she said. “There’s a lot of depth to our roster.”
Warden said the addition of such a large freshman recruiting class added depth that made a huge difference late in games, especially with mounting injuries toward season’s end.
“We had a great rookie class,” Warden said. “It’s a group of really athletic, really determined girls with a great attitude. And as long as we can continue to have success recruiting, I think we will keep being successful.”
With the playoffs over for the team, all that remains is a showdown with No. 14 Radcliffe on Nov. 19. The intensity and frequency of practices will wane, but there is nothing to dampen the omnipresent Harvard-Yale competition.
“The Radcliffe game is mostly for fun,” Sorensen said. “But there’s always a huge rivalry.”