PORTSMOUTH, RI – Maybe there was something in the water that the Vassar players were drinking at The Beast of the East Tournament, or perhaps the squad was so thrilled that they were playing 15s again, but whatever the reason, the effect was stunning. The Brewers faced UConn in the semifinal of the tournament, and whereas in the past, results have been close and measured by a single try, conversion, or penalty kick, this turned into a rout. The Huskies shipped nine tries, and Vassar pitched a shutout!
Vassar College Women 53 v 0
University of Connecticut Women
Tries: Caeli Porette (4), Emily Howell (2), Vivika Sheppard (2), Julia Busby (1).
Cons: Julia Reigrut (4).
Those who know the fields at the Beast in the Gardener Seveney Sports Complex will recall that there is quite a slope, and it can be daunting to play up the grade. Vassar took the field against UConn, and not only was the team appreciably smaller in height, but the Brewers would be playing uphill.
But the die was cast early as the Brewers scored probably the best try of the day when Izzy Snyder darted through and veered away from the cover defense about 40 yards out. She offloaded in the tackle to Caeli Porette. Her center partner and the rugby newcomer needed no further invitation as they tore past the bewildered UConn defense to give Vassar a 5-0 lead. Julia Reigrut slotted the conversion, and it was 7-0 playing uphill and into the wind!
Emily Howell collected the second try for the Brewers, and she would celebrate breaking the college record for the number of tries scored in a single season in this game. This put her at 44 and tied for the record, but later she scampered over to massive cheers to get number 45.
The Vassar forwards destroyed the UConn pack in the set-piece and at the breakdown as they rucked furiously. The focus was on close support when they had the ball and competition when UConn went to the ground. The tackling could have been better as UConn ball carriers sometimes made good yards after contact, but Vassar was highly competitive when they went to the ground.
Vassar kept things simple, although they put the ball wide a tad earlier than necessary, producing a few anxious moments. Kasey Drake at 10 steadied the ship early in the second half, using Snyder to good effect.
Vivika Sheppard was rock solid at the back, and on the times when UConn kicked, she was dangerous on the return. She scored a brace of tries using her strong running and pace to good effect.
But the high scorer for Vassar was number 13, Caeli Porette. In this their third game of rugby 15s ever, they scored four tries. To say that their running lines were a tad unorthodox is both a criticism and a compliment. At the end of the day, if one can wrong-foot an opponent and create a line break, who is to say the line was not correct! Kudos to the novice, and long may the elusiveness continue!
UConn had no answer to the pace and ferocity of the Vassar rucking. This, in turn, produced a good quality fastball, and Julian Busby was dynamite at 9 varying her attack options. Forwards running one outstretched the UConn defense, and the scrumhalf’s occasional sniping run caught them drifting, so she made significant gains and was well supported by the Vassar forwards.
Prop Sophia Florida, together with locks Grace Skakel and Louise Ambler, was outstanding in the rucks and, if called upon, carried the ball. Asia Baker, drafted in to play flanker, was excellent as well.
This team, and the entire squad, have realized that ball placement, body position in rucks, close support, and a solid set-piece will ensure they are highly competitive against any opponent.
The emphatic win set up a final against Poughkeepsie town rivals Marist College, who had defeated UMass Amherst, 12-5, to earn their place in the championship game.
Team: 15 Vivika Sheppard 14 Zoe Lynch 13 Caeli Porette 12 Izzy Snyder 11 Julia Reigrut 10 Kasey Drake 9 Julia Busby 1 Sophia Florida 2 Hannah Thompson 3 Andie Authers 4 Grace Skakel 5 Louise Ambler 6 Asia Baker 7 Lauren Showalter 8 Emily Howell. Subs: Sam Tang for Asia Baker, Kate Canavan for Hannah Thompson, Isabel Rodriguez for Caeli Porette.
There would be no stopping the Vassar Women now that they had swept aside UConn. The confidence was palpable, and even though the Marist College Women are hard hitters and the teams know each other well, they knew what was coming. The tsunami was cresting as the game kicked off.
Vassar College Women 71 v 7 Marist College Women
Tries: Julia Busby (1), Emily Howell (3), Caeli Porette (6), Lauren Showalter (1).
Cons: Julia Reigrut (8).
Porette scored six tries! Count them 6! Remember, this is just their 4th game of 15s rugby. Sure the ball was won by the forwards, distributed by Julia Busby at nine and then Kasey Drake at 10 but 6 tries are impressive.
The Vassar pack went into overdrive and smashed forward. Busby was majestic at nine, and every time Vassar scored, Julia Reigrut converted the try or came within a whisper.
Lauren Showalter was at her best; straightening and beating defenders and mistakes were not on the agenda. Kasey Drake continued to boss the game and had a couple of penetrating runs that kept the Marist defense honest.
Vivika Sheppard, at 15, rounded off the tournament with some challenging runs. She bounced tacklers off and made hard yards, and was inspirational.
22 Vassar Women represented the college in 4 games over two days,
Vassar defeated four opponents by an average of 65.75 points per game;
Total tries over four games was 43;
Vassar averaged 10.75 tries per game;
Vassar made 24 conversions out of 43;
The try conversion percentage was 56%;
The total points scored was 263;
Total points conceded 7;
Caeli Porette 15
Emily Howell 11
Lauren Showalter 5
Julia Busby 4
Vivika Sheppard 4
Asia Baker 2
Andi Authers 1
Kate Canavan 1
So while the significant plaudits go to the scorers, contributions from all the squad bode well for the future. Isabel Rodriguez had some solid runs and looked like an A-side center come wing in the making; Julie Geller came in at nine and was more composed and made good passes; Katie Canavan tackled well; Peyton Wilder’s positioning is now better on the wing; Jamie Marinez made a couple of good pickups and tackles before spraining her ankle; Maddie Freundlich was direct and for a complete novice will be a good player next fall; Hannah Thompson caught every pass thrown her way and ran the show in the front row stealing opposition ball; Sam Tang had another 50 plus yard run being hauled down just short of the line but was a force in the pack; Zoe Lynch had some crunching tackles and cleaned up a loose ball in defense, and Andi Authers worked hard in the set-piece and loose. On the sideline, Claire Zickl was scorekeeper, MC Cicenia ran the video, Liz Slein ran touch, and Hannah Charlson was there for moral support i.e., she cheered! Congratulations, one and all.
Team: 15 Vivika Sheppard 14 Zoe Lynch 13 Caeli Porette 12 Izzy Snyder 11 Julia Reigrut 10 Kasey Drake 9 Julia Busby 1 Sophia Florida 2 Hannah Thompson 3 Andie Authers 4 Grace Skakel 5 Louise Ambler 6 Asia Baker 7 Lauren Showalter 8 Emily Howell. Subs: Sam Tang for Sophia Florida, Kate Canavan for Hannah Thompson, Isabel Rodriguez for Caeli Porette, Peyton for Izzy Snyder, Maddie Freundlich for Lauren Showalter, Julie Geller for Julia Reigrut.
Team 2021-22 Record: 15-1-0.