Bears twice champions in Ivy League 7s

Sports Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2011

Texts were flying two Sundays ago between the men’s and women’s rugby teams. Both teams — the women in Princeton and the men in New York City — had just played in the final match of their respective Ivy League Championships.

“We were all texting them saying, ‘We won Ivies.’ And they were saying, ‘We’re Ivy champs,'” said Michelle VanderPloeg ’12.

Last fall, on the 50th anniversary of Brown rugby, the men’s and women’s teams were combined into a single program.

“It was a culminating experience,” VanderPloeg said. “Creating one rugby program, and the manifestation of that — having both of us winning in one weekend — it was really fun,” VanderPloeg said.

The women’s team (16-4) is no stranger to the Ivy championship title. They arrived in Princeton as the reigning league champions and lived up to their title, scoring 236 points and allowing zero.

Co-captain Chelsea Garber ’12 recalled some spectator comments during the matches.

“The tournament director called it ‘champagne rugby,'” she said. “It seemed like every ball was perfect, every pass that could have been dropped was caught and every ball bounced the way it needed to.”

The Sunday final saw the Bears facing Princeton, the host team, who was also celebrating the 30th anniversary of its women’s rugby team. But the Bears did not falter for a moment and started off hot with a steal in the first ruck. They did not back down until the whistle blew, ending the final with a 56-0 Bruno victory and a tournament most valuable player title for co-captain Izzy McKinnon ’11.

From here, the women’s team heads out to Bowling Green, Ohio, for the national championship sweet 16.

Head Coach Kerri Heffernan said she is confident her team will perform well.

“I am excited to be going to the first round of nationals relatively healthy and with confidence,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. “I think we have a good shot at returning to the final four this year — we are really good.”

The national championships will bring some heavy competition from new opposition.

“I am really excited, especially to play high-level competition, because in the spring it is a little sparse,” Garber said.

If the Bears make it through the first round, as they have done for the past three years, they will then travel to Stanford two weeks later for the national final four.

“That’s where you really go up against the big guns,” Garber said.

For the men’s team, the Ivy League Championship weekend was a more novel experience. This spring marked the first annual men’s Ivy League 7s Tournament. Though the Bears took on host Columbia for the final, the highlight of the tournament was the narrow win against the pre-tournament favorite, Dartmouth, in the first round.

“It’s been 15 years, I think, since any Brown rugby team has beaten Dartmouth,” said co-captain Dow Travers ’12.

Head Coach Jay Fluck said he felt similarly.

“(The players) played their pattern, moved the ball well,” he said. “Beating Dartmouth was a big win, and the championship against Columbia was the icing on the cake.”

In the final against Columbia, Brown fell behind at the start 5-0 but recovered quickly with a try by co-captain and tournament most valuable player Daniel Levine-Spound ’12 and a conversion by Sam Rabb ’11 to give the Bears a 7-5 lead at the half. Levine-Spound’s second try and Rabb’s second conversion put Bruno comfortably ahead, 19-5. The Lions put in another try before the whistle to make the final score 19-10, but the Ivy champs had already been determined.

Before the Ivy Championship, the squad made a last-minute decision to put together a team for the Collegiate 7s Collegiate Rugby Championships qualifier in Las Vegas. The team finished in the top 10 out of 32 schools, and Travers said the competition there helped the Bears prepare for the Ivy tournament. “That was integral to our success in the Ivies,” he said. “That’s where we started playing as a team and coming together.”

The win at the inaugural Ivy League 7s Championship gave the men’s squad a big confidence boost.”Our team has always had heart … but they’ve never really thought a lot of themselves until now,” Travers said. “But now it is fair to say, ‘We have some swag.'”

The joint championships were cause for festivity. “It was definitely a celebration for both programs,” VanderPloeg said.

Travers expressed similar sentiment. “There’s quite a lot of camaraderie between the two teams,” he said. “It’s great that, finally, we are both Ivy champions.”


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