The Varsity Cup may not have gone to plan but another weekend, another national championship title the D1-AA, for us to aim for, this time in Pittsburgh at the home of the Pittsburgh Harlequins Rugby Club. That is 11 hours each way for the Dartmouth team but with squads coming in from as far away as Florida and Washington we weren’t the only long distance travelers.
View while leaving Seattle pic.twitter.com/yXf6i9MAsL
— WWU Men's Rugby (@WWURugby) April 26, 2013
Our win in the Ivy League Championship made us one of 12 teams that automatically qualified for the D1AA, an annual competition run by USA Rugby for college teams. We were joined by 4 other teams one from each of the 4 regions: North East, South, Midwest and West who won the at-large bids.
Our first opponents were hosts Pittsburgh College. It’s never easy playing the home team and we quickly found ourselves 21-7 down early on in the game. Penalties again proved to be too easy to give away but Dartmouth rallied and put on a better performance in the second half and we came away relieved 43-34 winners.
— LineoutCoach (@LineoutCoach) April 27, 2013
Our work wasn’t over. We had two games to play over the weekend in what is called the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ round here in the States and the quarter finals. Playing two games in two days is extremely tough on the players. It is understandable why USA Rugby elects to run their tournaments this way – cost. It costs participating teams, huge sums of money to travel around this vast country. Buses, flights, accommodation and food for a rugby squad are not cheap! Rugby is a Club sport in most Colleges, as opposed to a Varsity sport. This means that there is limited financial backing from the College itself and most of the funds needed to run the rugby club is generously donated by the College Alumni. The semi-final and final will also be played over a weekend in Ohio.
Last year, when I was coaching men’s National D1 Champions, Belmont Shore, we endured the same hectic schedules. We played the round of last 16 and quarter finals down in Chula Vista, CA on consecutive days before playing the semi-final and final over the same weekend, in Glendale, Colorado.
While I am conscious of costs to the teams involved in these playoffs, as a coach, I am very mindful of player welfare. Playing two games of rugby over the same weekend is extremely punishing on the body. Managing your squad and gauging fatigue levels is very important. These post season tournaments are as much about managing your players’ downtime, as it is on the field. Rest and recovery are an essential part of any athlete’s training schedule. This is highlighted during these condensed weekends.
The picnic training table pic.twitter.com/Fh2ASNxlxa
— Dartmouth Rugby (@dartmouthrugby) April 28, 2013
Post match recovery! pic.twitter.com/bJVM4cMGSi
— Dartmouth Rugby (@dartmouthrugby) April 27, 2013
After our first game on Saturday, Dartmouth returned to our hotel and headed straight to the swimming pool. We are fortunate to have great support from the College and in particular the Club Sports staff. Associate Director of Club Sports at Dartmouth College, Joann Brislin, accompanied the rugby team to Pittsburgh this weekend. Joann is a former swim coach with many years experience and she guided the Dartmouth Rugby players through the pool recovery session. Along with the ensuing ice baths, these sessions are hugely valuable in easing the bumps and bruises of the day’s game.
Following our recovery session, the squad met up with parents that travelled to Pittsburgh for a meal and some relaxed time together. Afterwards we went back to our hotel for a video session, reviewing our performance from earlier in the day.
— Clemson Rugby (@ClemsonRugby) April 28, 2013
While Saturday had been sunny and dry and ideal running rugby, Sunday dawned rainy and wet so kicking was the order of the day. We faced St. Bonaventure in the D1-AA quarter-finals. St. Bonnie is a well-coached, physical team who beat Middlebury in the previous round, with the last play of the game.
Handling in the wet conditions proved tricky and promising moves by both teams fell as passes went astray. It was a tight game against St Bonaventure, with teams swapping tries and kicks to keep the score ticking over. Again a second half rally, the men of Big Green took control to win 30-22.
The wet winners pic.twitter.com/1geQGnEf5F
— Dartmouth Rugby (@dartmouthrugby) April 28, 2013
Our win sees us progress to the semis in Bowling Green, Ohio where we will face Central Florida in what I’m sure will be a hugely physical battle. My friend and colleague from last year’s successful U20s coaching team Justin Hickey was not so fortunate with his Clemson team just coming up short in their quarter final against Central Florida 24-20. It would have been interesting to see our two teams go head to head…
Next stop for Dartmouth is Ohio in 2 weeks but first I have the USA U20s Camp in Minnesota to attend ahead of games against Canada.
Yes, more travelling…
— LineoutCoach (@LineoutCoach) April 28, 2013
Match Report from RugbyMag.com
Dartmouth beat St. Bonaventure 30-22 in a DI-AA Quarterfinal in Pittsburgh, Pa. that teetered back and forth until the Big Green were able to go up two scores in the second half.
St. Bonaventure opened the scoring in the game with a try, and Dartmouth quickly responded with its own, installing the pattern that would carry one through halftime. The Bonnies took a 15-13 lead into intermission having hit one more conversion than Dartmouth.
Like they were in playoff locations across the United States, the fields in Pittsburgh were saturated, creating a slippery playing surface and dictating a forward-oriented game. In the early goings, St. Bonaventure’s forwards were the aggressors.
“They were just taking us on up front around the fringes. They played a pretty good kicking game, just pinning us back,” said Dartmouth coach Gavin Hickie of SBU.
We found it a little bit hard to get out of our half in the first half. At halftime we realized what we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to start taking it to their pack and that’s when we got on top.”
The Big Green took the lead early in the second half after a series of pick-and-gos. St. Bonaventure nearly jumped back in front, but had a try called back for a forward pass. Dartmouth All American Madison Hughes then broke the game open when he scored off an open-field scamper, putting Dartmouth up 27-15.
Hughes then slotted a penalty before St. Bonaventure scored a try at the death.
“We’re very happy,” said Hickie. “It was a messy game today just from the conditions, but we got through and we’ve got our eyes firmly on Ohio now.”
Dartmouth got the rare opportunity to compete in two postseasons this spring, having been knocked out of the Varsity Cup by Navy prior to the DI-AA Sweet 16.
“I’m a 15s purist, as much as I love 7s, and I would like our 15s season to go as long as possible,” said Hickie.
“We want to be in the Varsity Cup. We want to compete against the very best, and we’re still disappointed in our loss to Navy last week, but any 15s we can play, we’re firmly focused on it. And we’ve made no secret our aim is to go win this DI-AA title.”
Dartmouth is the only team returning to the semifinals from the 2012 Final Four, where the Big Green were ousted by Davenport 35-18.