Entering its first USA Rugby Division I National Championships as a varsity squad, the Harvard women’s rugby team (7-6) looked compete against the country’s top teams in the Sweet Sixteen. The Crimson—which had lost several key starters throughout the spring season to injuries—hoped to use its late-season momentum from a win against the professional Beantown Rugby squad as it faced some of its stiffest competition yet this year.
“I think people felt really good [physically and mentally] going in,” co-captain Ali Haber said. “We had two of our captains out for the rest of the season [as well as] a couple other key players, but we had all the minor [injuries] cleared up in time for this. It was a pretty positive feeling going into this weekend.”
Unfortunately for Harvard, its inaugural varsity season came to an end over the weekend, as a first-round loss to North Carolina and a consolation defeat against Indiana ended its post-season run.
INDIANA 29, HARVARD 24
Playing its last match of its 2013-2014 campaign, the Crimson put it all out on the line in a consolation match against the Hoosiers.
“We came in a lot stronger,” Haber said. “The mentality was a lot better in this game.”
A try by senior Cayla Calderwood and conversion by classmate Shelby Lin put Harvard up, 7-0, out of the gates. Juniors Cheta Emba and Kaleigh Henry added tries of their own to give the Crimson a 19-0 lead heading into halftime.
But Indiana rallied back in the final 40 minutes of play, regaining momentum after Harvard pushed the score to 24-7. The Hoosiers scored five-straight unanswered tries to take the lead, with Harvard unable to answer with its own offensive strikes.
“We kind of let our guard down in the last few minutes of the game,” Haber said. “That’s what the score ended up reflecting, but we fought really hard in that game, and it was a good turn-around in terms of effort and mentality from the day before.”
NORTH CAROLINA 29, HARVARD 15
Harvard had a tough start to its first-round matchup against the Tar Heels.
“The first five or ten minutes were completely on defense, which is a tough way to start out a game,” Haber said. “We fought really hard.”
UNC got an early try, but Calderwood added a score for the Crimson to tie the game up at five apiece.
Emba added another score to give Harvard its only lead of the contest, 10-5
“We had momentum going in the right direction,” Haber said. “It was a really good showing out of the gate, and it kind of just fell off a bit. I guess it was a defensive lapse for the most part after that. Through the middle of the game, we let them get a couple too many in.”
The Tar Heels rallied with four-straight unanswered tries to take a 29-10 lead in the second frame, but the Crimson responded, as Lin added a score to close the deficit.
“We definitely picked it up in the second half, but it was too late to recover the score,” Haber said.
Despite a late push, Harvard ultimately failed to score any more tries, and the final score stood at 29-15, knocking the Crimson out of the championship bracket.
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.