Rugby | Men’s, women’s rugby programs balance youth and experience
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 08:10
The hiring of head coach Maurice Kauff two years ago was the first important step toward success for the men’s rugby team. Since then, the team has flown noiselessly under the radar, growing rapidly from a laidback collection of guys into a regional juggernaut with an impressive resume of victories and growth.
Kauff brought with him, in addition to two assistant coaches in Tom Collins and Jamie Green, the kind of work ethic and structure required to create a disciplined and thriving program. His arrival proved to be the watershed moment that jumpstarted the club’s ascent. It would be an understatement to say that his impact on the program was profound.
In 2011, as part of the New England Rugby Football Union, the Jumbos breezed through their schedule, highlighted by a 70-5 victory over WPI and a 63-0 victory over WIT. Having torn through their regular season schedule, they earned a bye and a ticket to the playoffs.
Following a first-round win against Bowdoin, the Jumbos found themselves in the New England Final Four and national top 16, but after watching a 19-0 lead against top-ranked Salve Regina slip painfully away, their year was cut short.
They had to watch from home as Salve Regina, the defending national champions, steamrolled their remaining opponents en route to a second consecutive title. Tufts finished the year with a 7-2 record and ranked No. 11 in Div. III, a sign that the team was continuing to improve in this new era.
This year, though, Tufts was presented with the opportunity to move up to Div. II, a much more competitive league, and was eager to test itself.
But as anticipated, however, stiffer competition the likes of national No. 4 Coast Guard Academy among them, has not been all too kind to Tufts’ win column. The team’s 2-3 record is a far cry from last year’s unblemished regular season.
“I don’t feel [it] accurately reflects our performances this season, but [it] does reflect the level of competition in our league,” said sophomore starting fly half Patrick McGonagle. “Our potential as a program is essentially limitless. If we keep up our performances, we have the potential to become a Division I [team].”
Nevertheless, for a team comprised mainly of sophomores and juniors who had no experience before joining the Jumbos’ roster, the results posted thus far are not half-bad. A walloping of 15th-ranked Boston University at Homecoming was an exhibition of just how good this team can be.
If the team’s talent level begins to translate into wins on a consistent basis, it is well within reason to believe that the Tufts men’s rugby team can become a formidable mainstay on the national scene.
The women’s team is no slouch, either, as it has also enjoyed its fair share of success over the past year or two.
Thus far in 2012, the team has amassed a 3-2 record in the New England Small College Rugby Conference, which it joined prior to the start of the season. The squad has just one more game remaining, this weekend at home. The Jumbos line up against Amherst in a match that will likely determine which team makes it to the playoffs.
This year, the squad is made up predominantly of rookies and players who last year only played in B-side scrimmages because last year’s particularly large outgoing senior class was replaced by a particularly small incoming senior class.
The Jumbos have performed valiantly in spite of their inexperience, which is reflected in their winning record. Sophomores Kelsey Wade and Lauren Ritterband, both flankers, are among those who have risen to the occasion time and time again, competing against more experienced players.
Their two losses came against Middlebury and Bowdoin, far and away the two toughest teams in the conference. Bowdoin had held its opponents scoreless until it encountered a scrappy Tufts team in a heated showdown during which tensions flared the full length of the match.
“We kind of have a rivalry with Bowdoin,” sophomore outside center Emily Barns said, understating the extent of the enmity between the two teams. “Although we lost, we probably played our best game of rugby that day.”
Fifth-year scrumhalf Joyce Tai, a Tufts veterinary school student and one of the squad’s hardest hitting and savviest players, was the first to score against Bowdoin this season. It was the way in which the Jumbos came out that day, confident and hungry, that provided Tai with a scoring opportunity. Still, the Polar Bears proved too tough a test for a young Tufts team.