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Women’s rugby claims second-straight national championship

Bears best Army 12-5 after Harvard upset last week

<p>Akilah Cathey ’25 is currently a finalist for the MA Sorensen award, a prize given to the best player nationwide in women’s collegiate rugby. Photo courtesy of Taylor Barber via Brown Athletics</p>

Akilah Cathey ’25 is currently a finalist for the MA Sorensen award, a prize given to the best player nationwide in women’s collegiate rugby. Photo courtesy of Taylor Barber via Brown Athletics

One year ago, the women’s rugby team conquered the national stage and won the Collegiate Rugby Championships. Since then, the team has waxed and waned, finishing the season with a 20-8 record. After upsetting Harvard for the first time in nine years at the Ivy 7s tournament last week, the Bears stood at the same spot they had been a year before: the Collegiate Rugby Championships. 

But this year, they took the field as reigning champions. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, the team made history with a repeat victory. After going undefeated in regulation, the Bears triumphed 27–5 over Navy in the semi-finals, and bested Army 12–5 in the championship match-up.

Winning the national title again “meant everything” to senior star Morgan Cunningham ’24. “You win it once, and people call it luck. You win it twice; now they know it's always been yours for the taking. The feeling after was just pure happiness. We were so proud of ourselves for taking care of business and once again proving to the rugby world that Brown University deserves a spot at the top.”

The Bears laced up for their final contest of the tournament at 5 p.m. Sunday night. A minute-thirty into the first half, Kate Muldoon ’26 — who was named tournament MVP — caught the ball at the halfway line. Before she could go far, Cadets swarmed her. As they brought her down from the back, Muldoon impossibly spotted Akilah Cathey ’25 and, in the midst of a fall, tossed the ball into Cathey’s arms. Cathey surged ahead, pulling away from her three pursuers to claim an early 5–0 lead. 

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Cathey is currently a finalist for the MA Sorensen award, a prize given to the best player nationwide in women’s collegiate rugby. 

“I'd love for the Brown community at-large to know just what a wonderful group of student-athletes are on this team,” Head Coach Rosalind Chou wrote to The Herald. “They are just exceptional human beings who excel in the classroom and balance that with a deep passion to represent the university at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. They wear the B on their chest with pride and are just wonderful people.” 

Two minutes after Brown’s initial score, the momentum shifted as an Army attacker slipped through the Brown defense. With nobody left to beat, her score seemed imminent — until Nikki Lynch ’25 exploded onto the scene, dragging the Cadet out of bounds, forcing a scrum and saving a try in the process. 

Capitalizing on Lynch’s stellar defense, the Bears won possession of the ball deep within their own territory. As ranks of Cadets closed in, Cunningham broke free from a tackle outside her own tryzone and erupted for an 85-meter long sprint, leaving the Cadets in her dust to cement a 12–0 lead. Though Army tried to claw their way back in the second half, Brown’s defense shut the door, and the Bears walked away as national champions.

“After winning, we just couldn't leave the field,” Cunningham told The Herald. “Event staff tried to kick us off but our team had to soak in every moment of the glory and I just thought that was incredible. As a senior, I could've stayed on that field forever soaking in every last minute with one of the best teams I've ever played with.”

Before they challenged Army in the finals, Brown had to overcome another hurdle: the semi-finals match-up against Navy (16-21-1). When the ref blew the whistle, Cunningham raced over the grass to track down the opening kick-off. After recovering the ball, she handed it to Cathey, who didn’t give the defense any chance to react as she speared towards the tryzone. In just twelve seconds, the Bears drew first blood and claimed a 5–0 lead.

Three minutes later, the Bears circled Navy deep within their territory. As a Navy attacker tried to escape, Cathey laid a vicious hit and tackled her out of bounds, forcing a turnover. Before the defense could reset, the ball was securely in the hands of Lynch, who stretched out to cross the plain and propel the advantage to 12–0. 

Though Navy scored once before halftime, Brown’s subsequent offensive explosion left no doubts as to who dominated the field, and the Bears walked off the field with a 27–5 victory.

“The astounding part of this group is that they worked extensively on themselves as individuals and as a team outside of rugby,” Chou said. “They are committed to being better teammates to each other. We talked as a group about how pressure is a privilege, because it means you've earned a spot in a national semifinal or championship. The team has grown through difficult challenges so it was just tremendous to end the season with another championship title.”

“As a senior, the season was everything I had ever hoped and dreamed,” Cunningham said. “If these last four years were a script, then I couldn’t have read a better story even if I’d written it myself. I am so thankful for the people that believed in me most, even when I didn’t myself. Brown Women’s Rugby is unlike any family in this world, and now I can forever call it mine.”

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Lydell Dyer

Lydell Dyer is a Senior Staff Writer for the sports section. A sophomore hailing from Bonn, Germany, Lydell is studying nonfiction English and political science, and if he's not off "making words sound pretty," you can find him lifting heavy circles at the Nelson.



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