Following undefeated conference run, women’s rugby team gears up for encore

Morgan ’16, along with co-captains Goretaya ’17 and Mack ’16, headlines talented core of returning players

Sports Editor
Friday, September 11, 2015

The women’s rugby team is all smiles as players walk off the pitch. The Bears have had a lot to celebrate in the last year as the team was undefeated last season in both regular season and Ivy League tournament play.

Last season, the women’s rugby team burst onto the scene in its first varsity campaign, tearing through the Ivy League with an undefeated record en route to an appearance in the national championship tournament. With another year of varsity practice and experience under their belts, the Bears hope 2015 will bring even more success.

“We just worked a lot harder because we had a lot to prove being the new varsity team on campus,” said co-captain Tiara Mack ’16. “We had to show that we did deserve the status.”

Being elevated to varsity status was a huge boon for the team in a number of ways. The team’s number of practices per week jumped from two to four or five, players were able to use the University’s athletic trainer and the team could schedule time in the varsity weight room — all of which paid significant dividends last season.

With more practice time, “the amount of knowledge that can be retained is a lot better,” said Head Coach Kathy Flores. “When you’re in a varsity sport, you have to commit to that sport. … The commitment level was much higher for our players.”

Another benefit that being a varsity team confers is assistance from the school with costs and fundraising, which co-captain Oksana Goretaya ’17 described as “a game changer” for recruiting. “The resources that we have as a varsity team have helped the team tremendously,” Goretaya said.

The effect of those resources showed last season. The Bears went undefeated in the regular season and Ivy League tournament, outscoring opponents by a staggering 419-71 over eight games. They beat Navy, their opponents in Saturday’s season opener, before falling to Quinnipiac in the second round of the American Collegiate Rugby Association tournament.

Though they faced little opposition in the regular season last year, the Bears will face a tougher road this season after Dartmouth’s team was also elevated to varsity status.

With a more difficult schedule than last year, Bruno is less likely to end the year undefeated, and one downside of 2014’s success is that the Bears have not had the experience of coping with a loss. Goretaya said that she addressed the team about “learning how to deal with a loss” and “learning from our mistakes and moving forward.”

Of course, the Bears have the talent to make losing far from their worries. Headlined by three-time All-American Kiki Morgan ’16, the returning Bears promise to be as formidable a force as last year’s team. Flores and Goretaya both highlighted Beth Clifton ’18 as another impact returnee. Flores described Clifton as a tough two-way player who “runs hard with the ball and hits hard on defense.”

Most of all, the Bears stand to improve simply from playing more — the majority of the team’s players had never played rugby before coming to college. Flores said even the best players “don’t get it right away” and take two to three years to “really get what’s going on.”

Drawing on the experience that an additional varsity season brings, Bruno is ready to make an even deeper postseason run.

“My expectations are to win Ivies again and make it to the final four for ACRA,” Goretaya said. “We can improve on what we did last year by not dwelling on last year.”