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Coming Full Circle: Dartmouth Women’s Rugby Captures First NIRA Title

  • Dartmouth's Milla Anderson is lifted into the air by teammates Maya Perkins, left, and Marin Pennell during an inbound ball during their game with Harvard on Nov. 18, 2018 in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth won the NIRA national championship 19-14. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth's rugby player Ariana Ramsey takes down a Harvard player during their NIRA national championship on Nov. 18, 2018 in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth won the 19-14. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth rugby teammates react to beating Harvard in the NIRA national championship on Nov. 18, 2018 in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth won 19-14. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hanover — Four years after transitioning from a club team to a varsity program, Dartmouth College women’s rugby is the best varsity side in the land.

The Big Green’s coronation came on Sunday at Scully-Fahey Field when it won the nine-team National Intercollegiate Rugby Association Tier I title with a 19-14 defeat of Ivy League rival Harvard. The Crimson was driving for what would have been the winning score in extra time but turned the ball over and a Dartmouth boot out of bounds ended the match and set off a celebration.

“It’s the culmination of four hard years of work building a varsity program,” said Dartmouth coach Katie Dowty, whose team lost to Quinnipiac in last year’s NIRA finals and had to earn its way back this year despite serving as host for the semifinals and finals. “I’m especially proud of our (nine) seniors, because they’re the first ones who took the dive and are huge, critical pieces of building it.”

In a sad note, the only one of those seniors who was recruited by Dowty that first year, Kat Ramage, sat out Sunday’s second half after absorbing a hard hit. Ramage, who’s in the hunt for a U.S. national team slot along with several teammates, injured an ankle during the semifinals and missed part of that contest as well.

“The rest of them started playing rugby only after they got here and I’m incredibly proud of them for that,” Dowty said. “Milla Anderson, for instance, is one of the best forwards in the country. She really understands the game and all of its little nuances.”

Guam native Ale Ada, usually a wing, replaced Ramage at scrumhalf and despite it being her first year of playing the sport’s 15-aside version, filled in admirably for her team’s best player.

Harvard looked like it would open the scoring after only a few minutes, driving a scrum pile across the Big Green goal line. However, the Crimson dropped the ball before touching it down, as required for the try to count. Thus, it was Dartmouth that scored first, freshman Ariana Ramsey producing her second try of the season. The kick failed and the hosts were up, 5-0.

The teams traded failed penalty kicks and a Harvard threat was nullified by an illegal forward pass before the 40-minute mark and intermission. The Big Green went up, 12-0, when the game’s most valuable player, senior flyhalf Camille Johnson, caught the Crimson off-guard with a quick restart and sprinted past half her opponents before they realized what was happening.

“Camille’s always looking for that kind of opportunity and she had several during this game,” said Dowty, whose team beat Harvard, 55-13, during the regular season before losing to the Crimson, 12-3, in sleet during the Oct. 27 Ivy Rugby title game.

Dartmouth pushed its lead to 19-0 after freshman half Emily Henrich weaved her way from midfield and past three defenders for a try and a successful conversion kick.

Harvard pulled within 19-7 with 23 minutes elapsed in the second half and then, despite missing standout Jenny Kronish for 10 minutes because of a yellow card, narrowed the deficit to 19-14 with a penalty try at the 39-minute mark.

“We’re a team with speed out wide, but the last time we played Harvard, it was wet and cold and we couldn’t exploit that much,” said Henrich, a center from Orchard Park, N.Y. “So coming into today, we knew that’s where we really wanted to key in.

“Once we hit the outside, it started opening up the middle for players like me.”

Tension rose among the several hundred fans gathered in the bleachers after a Johnson kick that could have ended the match if it had bounced in-bounds, instead sailed off the field. That allowed the contest to continue as long as Harvard could maintain possession, which stretched for a couple of minutes. Dartmouth’s defense forced a turnover, however, and the national championship was in hand.

“It was a little scary and we were getting a little nervous,” said Henrich. “We never underestimate Harvard and they had a real chance to put more points on the board.”

“It was an epic finish in a great rivalry,” said Dowty, a Harvard graduate. “These are the two top programs in the country right now and to see them playing so well and moving the (NCAA sanctioning movement) forward is really something to be proud of.

“Hopefully, other athletic departments see something like this and want to add varsity teams for women at their colleges.”

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Notes: Dowty noted that Scully-Fahey’s layout is about 5 to 7 meters narrower than a regulation rugby pitch. ... The NIRA consists of 17 schools and nine are in Tier I, which includes Dartmouth and Harvard. Others in that grouping are Army, Quinnipiac, Norwich, Notre Dame (Ohio), American International, Brown and West Chester (Penn.) ... Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens and his wife, Kirsten, attended the game, along with several Big Green assistants and about half a dozen players. ... Henrich’s parents, Chris and Lisa, both played rugby and other sports at Dartmouth during the early 1990s. ... The teams took a group photo after the game before gathering to thank each other for the competition and sing their respective team songs to the other side.

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