The temperature may have been frigid, but that didn’t stop the No. 11 Harvard women’s rugby team from heating up on Cumnock Field Saturday afternoon.
Seeing its first action since November, the Crimson (6-2) picked up its spring schedule right where it left off in the fall with a 22-5 win over West Chester University (5-3).
“It’s a great step in the right direction for us,” coach Sue Parker said. “I think what we saw in terms of our own self-assessment on the team was the ability to adjust and improve in the context of an extremely hard-fought battle. I’m extremely encouraged with what this team is going to accomplish over the course of the spring season.”
Harvard, which will finish its inaugural varsity season this semester, faced a stiff test from the Golden Rams, the second longest-standing varsity squad in the country.
It was a close-knit contest during the start of the first period, with neither team pressing the ball much past midfield. Ten minutes into the contest, senior Shelby Lin broke away from the pack and pushed the Crimson offense well past the midline, giving Harvard its first quality scoring opportunity of the contest. Moments later, the Crimson converted the try, and Lin split the posts on her conversion attempt to put Harvard up, 7-0.
But West Chester quickly responded, going deep into Harvard territory. The Crimson held strong for a few minutes but could not prevent the eventual score, as the Rams ran it in the back right corner for a try of its own. But a missed conversion attempt held the score at 7-5.
In the final moments of the first half, Harvard came up with an important stop, as West Chester spent the final seconds of the period just feet in front of the try zone. Time ran out, and the Crimson escaped with the two-point lead after the first 30 minutes of play.
“We knew it would be a tough West Chester team,” Parker said. “It took us the first 30 minutes to shake the rust off of the four-month layoff and get ourselves organized around ball retention around the rucks and the tackles. After we did that, we were able to employ our game plan.”
Heading into the second period, Parker emphasized the need for Harvard to execute its passes and tackles, even in the cold temperatures.
“[We needed to] get over the fear of that contact piece of the game,” Parker said. “In the first period, [it was] a total mess anytime around a tackle. In the second period, they started to execute.”
Despite pressure at both ends of the field, neither side could capitalize on its offensive opportunities for much of the second period. A kick attempt by West Chester went awry eight minutes into the period. A few minutes later, junior Cheta Emba broke away and darted past the Rams line into the try zone. Attempting to position the ball for a better look at the conversion, Emba stepped out of the back of the try zone before touching the ball to the ground, and her score was waved off.
But the Crimson finally put more points on the board when co-captain Xanni Brown ran in a try with four minutes left in the period to extend Harvard’s lead to 12-5. The Crimson added another score in the final minutes to close out a 17-5 win.
“Today was a really good day for a lot of things,” Brown said. “We got to see a lot of players play. We got to get our first taste of rugby for the spring. I think there are a lot of ways in which we are still dipping our toes in, but there were some things that went really well. We brought a lot of intensity.”
After the first 60 minutes of play, both teams fielded their B-side lineups for a 30-minute scrimmage, giving novice players some on-field action.
Brown said that the win against West Chester will give Harvard confidence as it continues on its spring schedule, with home games against American International College and Boston College lined up in the coming weeks, all in preparation for the national championships at the end of April.
“This is our first non-Ivy League game since the beginning of the fall,” Brown said. “This is us making a statement hopefully outside of the Ivy League. That’s where we have our eyes set on competing. It’s good to come out here and get a win against a good regional team.”
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.