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W. rugby exacts revenge in opener

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brown women’s rugby began its season on a high note this past weekend, picking up right where it left off last season when the team made the Final Four at Nationals. Beantown, the Boston-area club team that includes All-American Emilie Bydwell ’08, hosted a tournament at Amherst, Mass. The tournament featured some of the Northeast Region’s toughest teams.

Brown won the tournament championship by getting its season off to a 4-0 start. The Bears recorded wins over Providence College (47-0), UMass (18-0) and Army (10-5) before securing the championship with a 14-10 win over last year’s Final Four opponent Penn State.

“The team played fantastic,” said Head Coach Kerri Heffernan. “We’ve never opened up so strong as a team at such a high level.”

Brown steadily made its way through the preliminary rounds, dominating PC and UMass with sound defensive efforts and high-powered offense. Six different players scored tries – which are similar to touchdowns in football – in the PC match, including captains Whitney Brown ‘08.5 and Nina Safane ’09, Blaine Martin ’11, Frankie Male ’09. Yadi Ibarra ’09 and Alex Hartley ’10 also shined, each scoring twice in the match.

Brown next roughed up UMass, holding the Minutemen scoreless for its second shutout on the day. Martin, Brown and Adria Orr ’09 scored tries for the team.

With their 2-0 record after Saturday, the Bears were ready to take on a tough Army squad on Sunday morning. Martin and Hartley each scored their third tries of the tournament as the team held off a fierce Army comeback in the final minutes of play, securing the 10-5 win.

Last season, Penn State ended the Bears’ championship hopes by handing the team a 41-7 defeat at the Final Four in Stanford, Calif.

This time around, Brown was able to match the Nittany Lions’ depth in the championship game, emerging victorious by a score of 14-10. Hartley and Michelle Un ’11 each scored a try for the Bears.

Five starting players were injured for the championship matchup, so some key subs and fresh legs provided an extra boost to push the Bears past the national powerhouse.

“There was no difference in our strength, no weaknesses on the field,” Brown said. “We have that depth now and the inexperienced players are adapting so quickly.”

Heffernan decided to insert Chelsea Garber ’12 into the rotation in the final match. Garber played casual rugby this past summer, but she had never played the quick style of college play.

“Coach told me to throw on a jersey and trusted me out there,” Garber said. “I learned so much playing in that game right off the bat.”

The Bears attributed their early season success to preseason conditioning and working out over the summer. Captains Brown and Safane motivated the girls to commit themselves to the team and its goal of repeating the team’s trip to the Final Four.

“We played as a middle-season team,” Brown said. “We worked on cohesion in preseason, more contact in practice and an emphasis on fundamentals.”

With big wins over Penn State and Army already under their belts, the Bears are confident they can compete with any team in the country.

“We’re at a different level,” said Heffernan. “UMass isn’t scary anymore when you play teams like Penn State and Stanford.”

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