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Adversity tackled: Olympian Ramsey back from knee injury, ready for Dartmouth rugby title defense

  • Dartmouth rugby player Ariana Ramsey leads her teammates for warm-ups during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Hanover, N.H. Ramsey tore her ACL while playing in the Tokyo Olympics, missing last year's NIRA championship run. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth players Ariana Ramsey and Aleemah Williams pair up during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Hanover, N.H. Ramsey tore her ACL while playing in the Tokyo Olympics, missing last year's NIRA championship run. But she's returned as strong as ever, leading the Big Green into another rugby title game this Saturday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Dartmouth women's rugby coach Katie Dowty outlines what the team will be doing for practice in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • Dartmouth's Ariana Ramsey tore her ACL while playing in the Tokyo Olympics, missing last year's NIRA championship run. But she's returned as strong as ever, leading the Big Green into another rugby title game this Saturday. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in Hanover, N.H., Ramsey practices with her team. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2022 9:03:49 PM
Modified: 11/17/2022 9:10:43 PM

HANOVER — As the Dartmouth College women’s rugby team rolled through an undefeated season and won the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) championship last fall, the face of the program could only cheer from the sideline.

Ariana Ramsey, the first Big Green women’s rugby player to compete in the Olympics, tore her ACL with Team USA at the Tokyo Games, knocking her out for the 2021 NIRA season. But after making her long-awaited return in mid-October, the fifth-year senior from Philadelphia is back in top form, leading Dartmouth into Saturday’s title game against Harvard at Burnham Field.

“She’s a different kind of fast,” Big Green coach Katie Dowty said. “If we can put her in space, she’s the kind of player who can score four, five, six tries in a game.

“It’s really exciting to have her back. The team and (Ramsey) are peaking at the right time.”

Growing up in Philadelphia and its suburbs, Ramsey played just about any sport she had time for. She was a cheerleader for six years, ran track, wrestled and played basketball and field hockey. But at Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, Ramsey was recruited to rugby by a coach who was starting a team for his daughter, and she became a star almost instantly.

The high school team led Ramsey to club opportunities and eventually attention from Team USA. She committed to Dowty and Dartmouth, which became a varsity program in 2015, and made an immediate impact in Hanover as a freshman. In the 2018 NIRA semifinals against Army, Ramsey opened the scoring with her first collegiate try, and a week later, she did it again, scoring the first try of the championship game as the Big Green defeated Harvard for Dartmouth’s first national title.

“She came in a group of recruits on her visit,” Dowty said. “It just stood out that she was the most down-to-earth and humble of the crew and really connected with the team. That’s really important to us.”

The following year, Ramsey led Dartmouth with 10 tries, but the Big Green fell to the Crimson in the semifinals. Ramsey’s stock, though, just kept growing — she was named to Team USA’s sevens roster for the Pan-American Games.

But 2020 was an especially tough year for Ramsey — in addition to the pandemic, her father passed away. With the Ivy League canceling all sports for the 2020-21 school year, Ramsey withdrew from Dartmouth for the year to train with the national team, hoping to make the roster for the postponed Tokyo Olympics.

“I play with (my dad) in my heart, and I miss him so much,” Ramsey said. “He supported me through wrestling, through cheerleading, through everything. He was my backbone.”

Ramsey was the youngest player on Team USA throughout her year of training, but she impressed enough to make the 12-member Olympic team. In a reaction video posted on her YouTube channel, Ramsey clapped her hand over her mouth and covered her eyes, trying in futility to hold back tears of joy.

“It was insane. The first two weeks, we stayed at a resort and we got pampered,” Ramsey said. “There were saunas and hot tubs and massages, and we would just practice. We stayed there for about a week, and then we went to the Olympic village.

“My favorite part was definitely the opening ceremony; it was magical. All the Team USA athletes got to be together. The dancers, the drones, the lights — in person, it’s way better.”

Team USA won all three games in Group C, with Ramsey scoring a try in a victory over host Japan. The Americans then lost to Great Britain in the first round of the medal playoff, leaving them to play for fifth place. Ramsey’s ACL tear came in a win over China, and without her, the U.S. fell to Australia, finishing in sixth.

Ramsey had never injured her leg before and said she was terrified when it occurred. Dowty, who was watching from home, said her heart sank.

“A lot of knee injuries come not in contact, and seeing how it happened, I had a sinking feeling what it was,” Dowty said. “She’s been through a lot in her life, and none of it has slowed her down. She’s just used it as fuel. As sad as I was that she was going to have to go through another hardship, I wasn’t worried about her.”

The first few months of the rehab process were the hardest for Ramsey, who was unable to run or even walk briskly. But after more than a year of recovery and ramping back up to game speed, she returned to action for a big road game at Harvard on Oct. 15. Ramsey wasn’t quite back to playing the full 80 minutes, but she scored the Big Green’s first try in the eighth minute, then watched the second half from the bench as Dartmouth rallied from a 16-point deficit to win, 31-29.

Even though she’s played in just four games, Ramsey still leads the Big Green with nine tries. She found the try zone three times in a 95-10 romp over Princeton, then outdid herself with four more in an 85-0 annihilation of Brown. In last weekend’s semifinal against Quinnipiac, Ramsey fielded a kick and turned on the afterburners past the defense, going untouched until crossing into the try zone.

“I had a lot of pressure on me to show out,” Ramsey said. “I only played the first half (against Harvard) because of my injury; we wanted to slowly get me back in. I’m glad I got that in, and I’m glad it was Harvard for the first game.”

This Saturday, Ramsey has a chance to bookend her collegiate career with national championships, and just like 2018, this one would come in a familiar setting. Burnham Field, home to the Dartmouth soccer teams, has been repurposed into a rugby field, with goalposts added, to accommodate a larger crowd.

An economics major and Mandarin minor, Ramsey interned at J.P. Morgan last summer and is looking into careers in finance but is also considering physical therapy. She plans to remain with Team USA and play in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. For now, though, it’s all about bringing another national title to Hanover after she was unable to contribute to last year’s glory.

“I did it my freshman year, I’ll do it my senior year, and that’s a great full-circle moment,” Ramsey said. “My whole family is going to be here. I’m ready to show my full potential and go all out. I’ve been training since I was 10 years old in sports, and I’ve always been a great athlete, an exceptional one, so this is showing that my hard work is paying off. I’m just going to keep going up.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.


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