MCRC, MCWRC Defeat Conference Rivals

By Tom Clayton

The men’s and women’s rugby clubs both won handily over the weekend. The men’s side beat visiting American International College (AIC) 48-19, and will advance toward the season’s final two matches with a 5-0 record. The women defeated Bates on the road, 59-5, in the final regular season match.

The Middlebury College Men’s Rugby Club (MCRC) hosted AIC at Youngman Field in Middlebury Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27. Captain and All-American Brian Sirkia ’13 led the scoring again with 18 total points on five conversions, one penalty, and one try.

A revolving side of dangerous runners, who, one after another, broke deep runs to convert possession into points, powered the offense. Seven different players scored the seven tries that gave the Blue a commanding win.

“Our offensive success revolves around support play, and particularly in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen scores from plays where a lot of different people have had their hands on the ball,” said veteran Dylan Whitaker ’13. “Like any good team, we have specific plays we run in set pieces, but our real strategy is to always support each other through the whole play, and having 15 men on the field that everyone can trust is a big part of that.”

The side rotates 23 men through the 15 on-field positions, and the various offensive combinations dominated possession by supporting the ball at every chance. A number of individual efforts punctuated the team-wide effort, including a 30-meter dash to the try zone from first-year Cole Baker ’16.

“Everyone is focused on becoming the first team to succeed in Division I,” said Sirkia. “Everyone knows that we need to play our absolute best every game to accomplish that.”

At 5-0, the Blue sit atop the two-year-old East Coast Rugby Conference (ECRC). After struggling last year in their inaugural season of Division I-AA conference play, the Blue have lately secured a spot among the top teams in the ECRC conference. The win on Saturday cleared a path to this weekend’s crucial matchup against Boston College, the last remaining contender for the top spot in the conference.

“BC has a very good rugby program, and that’s why they are close to the top of our division,” said coach John Phillips. “Similar to us, they like to play an expansive game, so it should be a very exciting game.”

Though the offense continued to flourish on Saturday, the 19 points allowed on the defensive side of the ball were cause for concern. A number of players also emerged from the match battered. Luke Downer ’13 went down with a broken collarbone, a significant loss for the foreseeable future.

If high stakes and brutality are in the nature of the game, the intensity will only increase in the coming matches.

“We need to take each game seriously because one loss could cost us the season,” Sirkia said.

Saturday’s match at home against Boston College will likely decide the conference champion, with the winning team getting a bid to the national tournament in the spring.

MCRC will play Southern Connecticut the following weekend in a match rescheduled from earlier in the fall.

Meanwhile, the Middlebury College Women’s Rugby Club (MCWRC) capped a resurgent regular season with a win at Bates.

Eight separate players found the try zone, including a pair from both flyhalf Julia Gulka ’13 and flanker Sarah Minahan ’14. Captain and scrum half Jess Berry ’13 also converted twice to round out the scoring.

“We went into the game knowing we had to score more than four tries in order to be able to compete against Bowdoin in the championships,” Berry said. “We all knew we deserved a shot to contend to be the number one team in the NESCAC, and on Saturday we proved we deserve that opportunity.”

The women dominated possession from the scrum and wore down the Bates line. The controlling back line play of Berry and company allowed for a series of long, nimble, scoring runs from Melanie Haas ’13, Laura Hoffman ’15 and Julianna Gardner ’13.  The attack soon opened a wide margin from which Bates could never recover.

After finishing the regular season second in the league with a 4-2 record, MCWRC earned a berth in the NESCAC championship match this Saturday against first-ranked Bowdoin Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. against  Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin shut out MCWRC 26-0 at Rutland on Oct. 15.

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