Rugby | Rugby teams look to build upon present program
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 09:10
For the Tufts rugby teams, it has been a season of contrasts. The women’s team is undefeated for the first time in 11 years through five matches and is on its way to a conference championship match. On the other hand, the men’s team sits at the bottom of the New England Collegiate Rugby Conference’s standings at 1-4, facing a must-win match this Saturday against the Coast Guard to keep its playoff dreams alive. With one regular season match remaining for each team, the rugby program is once again showing that it is home to more than typical club teams.
The women’s team entered 2013 with high expectations following a 5-2 2012 season that culminated in a victory in the New England Small College Rugby Conference’s third-place match. This year, it will be hosting the championship as the No. 1 seed. While two of their three non-forfeit victories this year have been blowouts, the season-defining win thus far has been the Jumbos’ 29-17 triumph over Bowdoin on Sept. 28.
In the match, the Jumbos scored an early try, only to subsequently allow 17 unanswered points to go down 17-7 at half. They responded with 22 unanswered points in the second to snap the Polar Bears’ 19-game regular season winning streak.
“Since the beginning of the season, we were preparing for that game specifically,” senior tri-captain and prop Yerrica Morales said of the win. “We were way too pumped up. It was our game.”
The women’s team credits its recent success to its inclusive top-down approach. Even though they compete against varsity teams like Bowdoin, the Jumbos see their ability to recruit new players and motivate each other as the key to their success.
“The returning players and new players have come together,” senior tri-captain and flyhalf Kimberly “Stacey” Gillies said. “Even though we don’t have the same resources [as Bowdoin] we were still going to work as hard, if not harder, than them and beat them.”
Furthermore, the women’s team has found success in converting raw athletes into polished rugby players. For the Jumbos, they have been plentiful.
“Rugby incorporates the best aspects of all sports,” Gullies, a former soccer player, said. “There is a position for everyone. Whether you are short and strong or really tall, lanky and fast, there is a spot for you.”
Morales credited the program’s B team with allowing newer players to gain real-match experience. She also noted that players learned the sport together.
“Since [the new players] all come in completely new, they learn at the same pace,” Morales said.
The men’s team, too, has had to adapt to an influx of new players getting big minutes on the main squad. While the B team is home to many talented newcomers, many freshmen have had to contribute to the A team, with five currently starting. This has led to a number of growing pains for a team in transition.
“I think lack of experience has probably hurt us the most,” senior co-captain and flanker Peter Wells said. “But looking forward to the next couple years, we are going to have a strong team because we are developing our rookies.”
Along with the new players, the team has adopted to changes implemented by the new coach, Robin Peers. Coming into the fall, the team had to learn new terminology for its plays, and the forwards had to adjust to a new system on how to execute lineouts.
Despite the struggles the men’s team has faced, they are still in the playoff hunt. Thanks to the top-heavy standings in the NECRC, the Jumbos could jump from the bottom of the standing to fourth place with a win over Coast Guard on Saturday and a Boston University loss. A top-four conference finish would put the Jumbos in the sixteen-team playoffs and give them a shot at a national title. Their record has reflected a string of poor statistical luck. Save for their loss to first-place University of Rhode Island, the Jumbos have been within a try-and-conversion in all their other matches. These close calls have not left a dent in the team’s morale.
“The number of players we have retained is by far and away the most since I’ve been here,” junior center Ed Bell said. “The team is as close as it has ever been; the chemistry has been there all year.”
Senior prop and team president Andy Berman sees a bright future for the program, noting that Peers is “here for the long haul.” However, come Saturday, Berman, Wells and the rest of their classmates look to extend their careers one more week against Coast Guard in the final home match of their careers.
The women’s team will head to Maine to take on Colby in the final regular season game and tune up for the conference championship game on the first weekend in November. It will be played at Tufts.