Women’s rugby co-captain Dallas Robinson ‘14 can recall exactly how she felt on the afternoon of Sept. 21 when she walked off the field at Vassar Farm after the team had been trounced by Marist, 53-0. “I remember thinking, “We have no excuses. Nobody was injured. We just weren’t ready to play, and that’s not how Vassar does things,’” Robinson says.
The following Friday after practice, Robinson gathered the squad together for a chat. “I told them the way we had played against Marist was just stupid and that I’d never seen us play that way before.”
Whether it was that pep talk from Robinson or simply the maturation of a team with a lot of young but athletically gifted players, Vassar turned its season around quickly, winning its next two games against SUNY Binghamton and SUNY New Paltz by a combined score of 158-0. Following those two victories, Vassar went on to win seven of its final eight games, including a 22-5 victory in a re-match against Marist. A 41-10 thrashing of SUNY Geneseo on Nov. 17 propelled the Brewers to a trip to the Final Four of the American Collegiate Rugby Association tournament Dec. 7 and 8 in Auburndale, FL.
Co-captain and leading scorer Margaret Kwateng ‘14 says Vassar owes its success to a blend of youthful athleticism and senior leadership. “We have a lot of seniors who’ve played the game for three years, and the freshmen really stepped up,” Kwateng says. “And after the first Marist game, everyone accepted the commitment it would take to be successful, and we developed a special chemistry.”
Robinson says finding so many talented young players didn’t happen by accident. Publicizing the team began last spring with the creation of a new Facebook page, and it continued with aggressive recruiting during Freshman Week.
“Hannah Fink (a senior fullback) was our recruiter extraordinaire,” Robinson says. “She worked hard to find good players. And when practice began, we could see they weren’t just good athletes, they picked up the game really quickly.”
Coach Tony Brown, who is taking a team to the Final Four for the first time in Vassar history, says he’s never sure at the start of a season how his team will fare because the sport is new to almost all of his players.
“It’s a club sport, not a varsity sport -- nobody is recruited to Vassar to play rugby, “ Brown says. “With varsity athletes, there’s a built-in expectation that they’re committed to their sport, whereas with rugby it’s more like, ‘Can you please try this and we hope you’ll like it.’”
The coach and his players say they’re grateful for the support they’ve received this year from the Vassar community, starting with fan support at games and ending with “a very generous commitment from the college” to finance the team’s trip to Florida.
Brown says he expects a healthy contingent of parents and alumnae/i to attend the tournament, and a rugby alum, Charles Williams ’80, will host a dinner for the team Dec. 7 following its semifinal match against Notre Dame (Ohio) College. Former coach Dennis Chanmugan also plans to be there. “The Vassar rugby alumnae/i network has really been supportive,” Brown says.
Robinson says she and Kwateng plan to host a brunch for the players before they leave for Florida. “It’s been a really special season, something we’ll all cherish forever, and we want to celebrate it together,” she says.
Photos by Chris Boswell