UPDATED: September 4, 2015, at 2:26 a.m.
Coming off a difficult season during the 2014-2015 campaign, the Harvard women’s rugby team is looking to start off the season strong as it faces University of Prince Edward Island and Bowdoin at Bowdoin on Saturday.
After a season marred by injuries, the team (6-16-1, 5-7-1 Ivy) is looking to bounce back against two opponents it has never faced.
The Panthers are also looking to start a strong season behind Team Canada standout sophomore Alysha Corrigan. The Polar Bears, meanwhile, went 11-2 last year under the reins of Team USA All-American senior Addison Carvajal.
After a strong preseason, co-captain Lydia Burns is confident in the new squad and the team dynamic.
“This is a chance to really pull everything from preseason together,” Burns said. “We’ve got a lot of new players and new talents, and I think it’s going to be a nice way to showcase that and really bring it all together in a more competitive setting than practice.”
The Crimson squad is one with plenty of talent and much of it young. The team features six incoming freshman joined by eight sophomores. Co-captain Hope Schwartz, a former Crimson sports editor, says she is looking forward to playing with the young squad.
“I think that we have some very strong recruits and very strong returning players. We’ve set our outcome expectations very high,” Schwartz said. “One thing that’s really cool about our freshmen is that they all come from a variety of rugby backgrounds. We have two players from overseas who played internationally.”
As women’s rugby is still a fairly new varsity sport at Harvard, many players come in with little to no prior rugby experience. However, this was not the case this year, as four out of the six incoming freshman played rugby before arriving this fall in Cambridge.
One of the freshmen is Scotland native Susie Clements, who was a member of the U19 Scotland Rugby 7’s. Fellow freshman Genevieve Quirion of Canada also comes in with prior rugby experience, competing for Stanstead College and Team Quebec.
Joining Clements and Quirion is rookie Caitlin Weigel, a three-time All-Ohio and All-Midwest rugby player. Akweley Okine rounds out the incoming freshmen with prior rugby experience, playing four years for the West Chester Girls RFC.
One of the biggest changes to the team dynamic came last year when the team played 7’s rugby for the first time. Over the latter half of last year’s season, the team played in six 7’s tournaments. Schwartz mentioned the change in style of play has definitely improved the team overall.
“It was super important for us to work on our skills: specifically a lot of skill work related to passing, related to how we play through contact, and more reps,” Schwartz said. “A lot of the skills from 7’s really translate, and they’ve made us a much more technically sound team.”
Now three years since the start of the program, coach Sue Parker has seen her share of success with Harvard winning the Ivy League Championship two years back and taking a third-place finish last year. The team is coming back with a bit more experience, and the players are excited for the start of the season.