The women's rugby team upset No. 1 Army — the reigning national champions — 36-17 to win the Northeast Rugby Championship Nov. 6. The victory earned the Bears the first seed in this spring's upcoming national championship tournament.
"Army has been one of our big rivals for a while," said inside center Michele VanderPloeg '12.
The team saw themselves as the underdogs going into the match, said Head Coach Vanessa Heffernan. "This was a year of transition. A lot of seniors graduated last year," she said.
Brown's scrum stepped up and were pivotal in the team's victory. Though many of the Brown players are young, they managed to win many scrums during the match and control possession of the ball, VanderPloeg said. Heffernan also noted the size differential between the two sides, which makes the Bears' scrum play especially impressive.
Army struck first with a try and claimed a 7-0 lead. They were then in striking distance of adding to their lead, but All-American Shakeela Faulkner '12 retrieved a bobbled ball and ran it back 80 meters for the Bears. After a conversion from team captain Chelsea Garber '12, the game was tied at seven apiece.
Before halftime, Patricia Ekpo '15 — one of the team's rising stars — put Brown up 12-7.
"We have a lot of speed on the outside," Heffernan said, and Army was unable to contain Faulkner and Ekpo.
At halftime, Brown switched its defensive strategy, which Heffernan said threw Army off. While Army scored twice early in the second half, the defense buckled down and the Bears had the momentum for the remainder of the match.
After Blaine Martin '11.5 equalized the score at 17 apiece, Garber, who was previously tripped as she was about to score, converted a penalty to put Brown up 24-17.
But the team did not let up there. "Everyone was like, ‘if we win on a penalty, that'd be cheap,'" VanderPloeg said.
Ekpo and Martin both went on to record their second scores of the day. When the final whistle blew, Brown had earned a decisive 36-17 victory.
"Winning this year meant a lot for the seniors," VanderPloeg said. As first-years, the current seniors had also beat Army, and VanderPloeg said it felt like their rugby careers had come "full circle."
In recent years, the team has been successful in the tournament, making the Final Four three out of the past four years.
Last year, after a grinding first-round game against the University of Michigan, the Bears were upset by the University of Virginia in the round of eight. But this year, the top seed could potentially provide an easier road to the final four and a coveted national championship.