Sevens Up: Dartmouth Women Host Ivies in Rugby’s Speedy Cousin

  • Mackenzie St. Onge, of Dartmouth's B team, is wrapped up and tackled by Jochebed Muflam, of Princeton, during the Ivy Rugby Conference 7's Championship in Hanover, N.H., April 23, 2017. Teams of seven compete in seven minute halves in the tournament.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Francesca Sands, of Dartmouth's A team, right, blocks an attempted tackle by Sierra Watkins, of Columbia, left, and continues down the field during the Ivy Rugby Conference Women's 7s Championship in Hanover, N.H., April 23, 2017. Dartmouth won the match 38 - 0. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2017

Hanover — Dartmouth College and Harvard have fought fiercely on sports fields for more than a century. It’s safe to say that women’s rugby has been added to the rivalry.

Sunday, the Big Green defeated the Crimson, 15-0, during pool play at the Ivy Sevens Championship tournament at Brophy Field. In the title match, however, it was the visitors who prevailed, 10-5, winning for the second time in the varsity teams’ three meetings this spring.

Harvard reacted with gusto, celebrating at midfield with whoops and a bouncing group hug. The Crimson posed for a team photo as Dartmouth assistant coach Matt Cameron announced it as the tournament winner and invited all in attendance inside the Corey Ford Clubhouse for pizza and salad.

“This can end any time now,” said Dartmouth’s Frankie Sands, glancing at the boisterous Crimson with what appeared to be a mix of disgust and envy. “We value them for the competition, but this isn’t the end for us. We’ll see them again.”

Dartmouth has won the Ivy Rugby Conference’s fall season title in each of its first two years of existence as a varsity team. That’s with 15 players a side. The spring schedule is contested with only seven players competing for each team at one time. 

Whereas 15s is a slower, longer and more physical version of the sport, sevens features a pair of seven-minute halves and is played on the same-size field. The extra space means speed is at a premium, and well-rounded players are prized. The lumbering behemoths who might shine in a 15s scrum aren’t usually spotted during a sevens match.

“In 15s, the better team almost always wins,” Dartmouth coach Katie Dowty said after pool play. “But in sevens, you can get one lucky bounce and hold on. It’s a thrilling spectator sport and it’s a lot easier to watch and understand, but it’s much more stressful for coaches.”

Dowty looked prescient after the Crimson rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the title game’s first half. The Big Green’s Izzy Boettcher raced up the right sideline to score, but Kat Ramage’s kick attempt from a sharp angle was unsuccessful. 

Harvard scored late in the second half, and the result was all but sealed when Dartmouth’s Camille Johnson earned a yellow card and was sent off with 30 seconds remaining.

Dowty said her team too often failed to catch passes and wound up knocking the ball forward, handing possession to the Crimson. 

“We had little bits of non-discipline that led to penalties,” Dowty said. “That changed the direction of the game.”

The level of intensity present between other teams on Sunday increased drastically for the final contest. Harvard’s and Dartmouth’s players are not only more athletic and skilled than many of their Ivy brethren, but they tackled with ferocity and pursued the ball like jackals after a wounded antelope. 

Thuds, groans and shouted instructions rose up from the field to about 200 fans spread across an adjacent hillside and the clubhouse’s outdoor deck.

“A final always brings that out, but it’s an extra boost when we play Harvard,” Dowty said. 

Sands, an Essex (Vt.) High graduate who transferred from Norwich University in time to join Dartmouth last fall, said the Big Green program has gotten better even during the current school year. It had one recruited player, Ramage, its first season and bumped that number to seven last fall. By the time school starts again in September, there will be at least 12 on the roster.

“High school rugby is growing so fast in places like metro New York, Colorado, Southern California and Minnesota,” said Dowty, noting that USA Rugby’s most recent participation number for junior teens is roughly 8,600. “That’s drastic growth. and it’s great for collegiate rugby.”

Sunday’s competition featured all Ivy League schools except Cornell. Dartmouth fielded an A and B squad and the latter knocked off Yale, which later forfeited its final match because it didn’t have enough healthy bodies. The Big Green has 37 players and attracts numerous tryouts for walk-on slots, occupied by those who were not supported by the team during the admissions process.

“There’s medical and NCAA eligibility clearances, so you have to be pretty into it if you make it to the field with a ball in your hands,” Dowty said.

Two of Dartmouth’s four All-Americans from last year’s 15s season, Morgan McGonagle and Danielle Ramsay, were walk-ons.

Added Sands: “We’re still in slight transition mode. But us and rowing are the only two sports that really take walk-ons, and there’s no divide between us on the team.”

Dartmouth hosts the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association championship for varsity teams this weekend. There will also be a club team division. Harvard guaranteed itself a berth in the 12-team USA Rugby College Sevens National Championship on May 19-21 in Denver with Sunday’s title. 

The Big Green hopes to be awarded an at-large berth to that field but has already accepted a berth in the Collegiate Rugby Sevens event June 2-4 in Philadelphia.

Notes: Mackenzie St. Onge, who played four varsity hockey seasons, now competes for Dartmouth’s B team. … McGonagle, a junior, also sings a cappella with the Dartmouth Dodecaphonics. … About a half-dozen Dartmouth football players, including tight end Joe Cook, cornerback Darius George and safety Kyran McKinney-Crudden, came out to cheer on their classmates. Athletic director Harry Sheehy was also in attendance.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.