Just one short year ago, Cheta Emba had never set foot on a rugby pitch. But on Saturday afternoon, the junior looked perfectly comfortable on Cumnock Field.
Emba—who also splits time as a goalkeeper for the varsity women’s soccer team—helped spearhead the Harvard rugby team’s offensive charge against Boston College with four first-half tries. The Crimson (7-3) went on to rout the visiting Eagles, 105-0, for the largest margin of victory in the team’s inaugural varsity season.
“I thought the game on Saturday was a great turning point for the team,” Emba said. “We played more challenging opponents this spring, which have really made us hone down our skills. I thought on Saturday, we really had moments where we were finally clicking the way we wanted to on the field. It wasn’t perfect, but it is great to build from moving into this week when we travel to Penn State.”
With Harvard holding a 5-0 lead just two minutes into the contest, Emba added back-to-back tries to give the Crimson a comfortable 15-0 cushion.
“In the game this weekend, [Emba] did a good job [focusing] on her own execution,” co-captain Xanni Brown said. “She has very high standards, and she plays hard every day.”
Emba added two more tries later in the half and was a dominant force on the defensive side of the pitch. The junior’s efforts helped the Crimson amass a 60-0 lead going into halftime.
“[The tries were] really the product of our defensive lines and offensives lines meshing—the forwards gaining possession and getting the ball out quickly to us, and us back lines have good hands and connecting with each other to eventually get me the ball,” Emba said. “I was able to get them to the try zone to touch it down, but on my left and right were my teammates.”
While in just her first season of rugby, Emba has seen plenty of action between the posts as a third-year soccer goalkeeper. This past season, the junior was named a second team All-Ivy selection, boasting a 0.14 goals against average in 13 games of action.
But while the commitments of one varsity sport may be enough for most, Emba—who played both basketball and soccer in high school—still had the desire for something more.
“On the soccer field, when I transitioned into a full-time goalkeeper, I was still able to get the running side out of me in basketball,” Emba said. “Then in college, when I went full-time in soccer, I definitely missed being able to run [using] some of the skills that field players have for soccer. That combined with skill-playing and goalkeeping in rugby.”
“It’s a great complement to goalkeeping; a lot of catching and agility footwork,” Emba added. “It’s definitely a hidden cross-training opportunity.”
After the urging of several friends on the team, Emba visited a few rugby practice sessions last spring, as the Crimson began its transition from a club team into a full-fledged varsity program.
The junior first picked up the game regularly over the summer, playing for a sevens team while in Washington, D.C. When she returned to campus this fall, Emba committed to joining the inaugural varsity squad.
“It was difficult at the beginning,” Emba said. “The type of player I am, the type of person and teammate I am, I really want to be there for both of my teams. It really took me and the supportive coaches on both sides to figure out a schedule that would allow me to continue with my academic focus in the classroom, stay healthy, and enjoy my athletic pursuits as well.”
Emba missed the Crimson rugby squad’s fall action while competing on the soccer field. But in the spring, she has become a key source of offensive and defensive production for the Crimson at fullback.
“[Fullback] is a pretty high-pressured position for defense,” Brown said. “If there’s a break in our line, it’s up to Cheta to make big, important, try-saving tackles. It’s also a very crucial striking position on offense. Her athleticism really shines there.”
“There’s a lot of opportunities to kick and chase, which is something she’s pretty effective at as a goalie,” Brown added. “It’s been a place where she can come in and have a chance to learn and read the game, but also make a huge impact right out of the gates.”
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.