The Harvard women’s rugby team traveled to State College, Penn. this weekend to take on the toughest opponent of its 2013-2014 campaign. The Crimson (7-4) was set to face off against No. 1 Penn State, the defending national champions, in a Saturday afternoon match.
Besting the eight-time national champions would prove to be a tall task for the injury-hampered squad. Harvard had several key starters out due to injury, but nonetheless held its own in a 50-12 loss to the Nittany Lions.
“The score doesn’t reflect the amazing effort that the whole team put in,” junior field captain Helen Clark said. “I think that the team played really tenaciously. Everyone was just contributing really great effort and just playing with a lot of heart.”
The Crimson entered Saturday afternoon’s contest already with several starters on the sidelines. But by the end of the afternoon, two more costly injuries would cut into Harvard’s lineup.
In warm-ups, co-captain Ali Haber was sidelined with a badly sprained ankle. Then, less than fifteen minutes into the game, fellow co-captain Xanni Brown, the Crimson’s leading scorer, went down with a broken leg. The injuries were a devastating blow for the Crimson.
“It’s always really heartbreaking to see your teammates get injured and to have to play without them,” Clark said. “But that really motivated us to play for each other. Whenever a teammate goes down, it just feeds into that motivation even more.”
The Crimson was down a pair of tries less than ten minutes into the contest before a try by junior Cheta Emba cut into the deficit. Senior Shelby Lin added another try in the second half, capping off Harvard’s scoring efforts.
“I thought we did really well, especially considering the circumstances,” co-captain Brandy Machado said. “It was a little tough at the beginning of the game, and we saw people getting a little bit down. But we came back, [and] especially in the second half, started performing a lot better. I’m really proud of what the team did.”
“We do have a very deep bench,” Machado added. “We have a lot of our rookies playing in their very first games and they’re doing great, so I’m really excited to see them play more. Because we have the young talent that we do, I think we are in a good place, even when we do have games like this where we do have a lot of injuries and people on the sidelines.”
The Crimson intend to use the loss as a key learning opportunity as it prepares for the national championships in just three short weeks. By then, Harvard hopes to have a few more of its veteran players back in the lineup.
“[The game] showed us where our weaknesses are and what we need to work on,” Machado said. “We were tested a lot more than we have been in any other game. We’re going to be working really hard in practice and our next game to improve on those things. We fought the whole game. I think the biggest takeaway for the team is that we can play against these teams and hold our own.”
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follower her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.