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UPDATED: April 24, 2017, at 10:20 p.m.
In sports, long hours of practice come down to fleeting moments upon which the entire season is judged. For Harvard women’s rugby, the team’s conference performance came down to a 14-minute game against rival Dartmouth.
Coming off a pool play loss against the Big Green in Hanover, N.H., the Crimson executed a second half comeback in a low-scoring affair to claim its second consecutive 7s rugby Ivy League championship.
HARVARD 10, DARTMOUTH 5
Facing off in competitive matches against Dartmouth was nothing new. Last fall, the Crimson fell to the Big Green in the 15s Ivy championship.
On Sunday, perhaps the most important thing that helped the Crimson to victory was a belief that the team could win. This belief, combined with the desire for vengeance, fueled Harvard.
Just two weeks ago, the Crimson beat Dartmouth 24-0 in the Brown 7s Tournament, providing confidence that its Ancient Eight foe was beatable. The win especially showed that Dartmouth’s defense was vulnerable and that points could be scored quickly by Harvard, which was looking up at a five point deficit with seven minutes to go in its Ivy league season.
“After Dartmouth scored the first try in the championship game, we all looked at each other and something clicked,” sophomore Caitlin Weigel said. “We realized this isn’t happening. We are not going to lose this game.”
The Crimson capitalized on the positives by converting a team try just minutes into the second half using sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
“We knew that possession would be key, that the team that could hold on to the ball the majority of the game would probably come up with the win,” senior Claire Collins said. “We really focused on getting our support there really quick, making sure that we weren’t taking any risky offloads, that we weren’t running into contact first so we always had teammates with us.”
Punching in the score gave Harvard the lead and a chance for its defense, which the team has emphasized throughout the season, to shine. The iron wall held up and eventually led to a penalty kick, which junior captain Maya Learned converted to cap off the conference championship.
HARVARD 22, PRINCETON 19
Playing against Princeton for the first time in the 7s season, the Crimson exploded out of the gate by scoring three tries to begin the game. Harvard seemingly controlled the entire game, asserting its dominance as a varsity team playing against a club program.
However, the game ended up being a wake-up call to the experienced squad because Princeton came roaring back as the Crimson relaxed.
“In the final minutes against Princeton, we gave them a lot of space and played a little soft on defense and they were able to get through the holes and put good stiff arms on us and find the try line,” Collins said. “That just kind of reminded us how important being aggressive at the point of contact and in the defensive wall would be and I think that we brought that experience into the final.”
DARTMOUTH, 12, HARVARD 0
Despite the reassuring win two weekends ago in Providence R.I., Harvard faced off against a much-improved team this weekend, which gave the program an early pool play scare.
“We saw that they were not there to mess around,” Weigel said. “It definitely got our butts in gear.”
The two teams butted heads early in the game, but Dartmouth broke through first to take half on top. The game was still up in the air for much of the second half, but Dartmouth converted a late try to take the victory.
“Dartmouth came out really, really strong,” Collins said. “They had improved a lot in the last two weeks since we had last seen them. So they kind of took us by surprise and I think that we just gave them too much space on attack and they were able to make us pay.”
But the game turned out to be a wake-up call that allowed the Crimson to find its identity and helped them perform well in the bracket.
“We came out of the game with a really clear idea of what we needed to do to kind of flip the scoreboard in our favor and make really intentional adjustment for Princeton in the semi-final and then again playing Dartmouth in the final,” Collins said.
HARVARD 45, PENN 0
Playing against a lesser opponent, Harvard had its play dominated by underclassmen. Normally influential players, like freshman Delia Hellander, who scored four tries, filled up the score sheet. But the support staff for the normal starters was different.
“We started out the tournament with Columbia and Penn, which were two really good teams to get a lot of our players in who needed experience or were somewhat new and get them playing time to see what the depth of our team could do,” Weigel said.
As a team with both recruited and walk-on athletes, experience in high-level games helps a great deal in development of the entire team. Instead of claiming a blowout win with starters, which would not help development very much, the Crimson challenged its depth players to grow and adapt.
HARVARD 29, COLUMBIA 0
The first faceoff of the tournament proved little resistance for Harvard. This rang true throughout, with several early tries, leading to a 19-0 first half lead. A couple additional tries in the second period put the game out of reach.
The tournament was less about the points scored and more about the level of play in general.
“This weekend we really utilized playing to our strengths and that’s something that as we go into this next week, our last week, we’re going to remember,” Weigel said. “And for Varsities, it won’t matter who we are playing. Our main goal this season was to win Ivys and to be the best Ivy League team. And so with Varsities we have nothing to lose. We can go out there and play our hearts out and leave it all out on the field because there’s nothing after it. So there is no holding back this weekend.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following corrections.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated that Dartmouth had defeated Harvard two weeks before the 7s championship. That same version misstated that captain Maya Learned is a senior. In fact, she is a junior.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at email@example.com.
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