Facing its stiffest competition yet, the Harvard women’s rugby team just couldn’t quite keep up.
The No. 11 Crimson (6-3) took on No. 4 American International College in a Saturday afternoon contest at Cumnock Field. A quick try in the opening minutes of the game put Harvard up, 7-0, but a powerful Yellow Jackets offense proved too much for the injury-hampered Crimson squad in the 56-19 loss.
“The game showed that we have tremendous amounts of improvement to make in our ability to compete at the point of contact against an athletic, strong, determined team,” Harvard coach Sue Parker said. “It shows we have tremendous progress to make in our skill and also our mental toughness.”
Right after the Crimson went up, AIC came storming back with a try of its own to cut the deficit to 7-5. On the next play, a breakaway run by Anna Mbengham past the Crimson wings added another score to give the Yellow Jackets a 10-7 lead.
AIC tacked on to claim a 10-point advantage over Harvard with 12:30 to go in the first half. The Crimson finally got back on the board seven minutes later with a try by co-captain Ali Haber to cut the deficit, but the Yellow Jackets added another score to take a 22-12 lead into halftime.
“I thought we had it together in the first half,” Haber said. “We were starting [to] put things together like we had practiced. It wasn’t perfect, and we weren’t 100 percent, but it was there.”
But in the final 40 minutes of play, the game slipped away from the Crimson. AIC increased the margin to 44-12 before co-captain Xanni Brown registered a try for Harvard with just 11 minutes left in the game.
The Yellow Jackets responded with two more scores of their own—including one on the final play of the game—to give AIC the 37-point victory.
“It was difficult to continue on with your game plan and your intensity when you know that it’s a really scrappy game,” Haber said. “I guess we weren’t mentally prepared for that.”
The Crimson suffered from the loss of several key starters throughout the game. Sophomore Audrey Carson left the contest in the first half with an ankle injury, and senior Cayla Calderwood also was taken out later in the contest.
“We have to work on bringing up the morale when we have very big challenges like starters out,” Haber said. “We have a deep bench, we had lots of people come in and play their hearts out. But you have to know how to play through that mentality of [knowing] you’re missing people.”
“I think this is a tough lump,” Parker added. “I think we all thought we would measure up better today. For a lot of us, it’s back to the drawing board as to why today unfolded the way it did.”
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.