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Men's rugby blanks Coast Guard and Maine

By Middlebury Campus

Author: James Schwerdtman

The men’s rugby club had an intense weekend of play, clinching the New England Rugby Football Union Championship for the fourth consecutive year. The Panthers continued the undefeated streak they have enjoyed since the beginning of the season, defeating Coast Guard 27-0 on Saturday, Oct. 25 and topping the University of Maine the following day 34-0. While the victory over Maine was certainly greater in that it clinched the New England Championships, the victory over Coast Guard was even more satisfying for the Panthers.

The Bears have become the perennial rivals of the Panthers, as it seems that almost every year they meet up at some point in playoff competition. “Coast Guard has always been a physical team,” said rugby club president Max Levine ’09. “We spent two and a half days this week concentrating on hard nosed, in your face play, the style of play that Coast Guard dominates.” The Bears had a bit of an off year this season, finishing third in their division, but there was never a letdown in the intensity Middlebury brought to the pitch.

“Coast Guard is probably the biggest rivalry Middlebury has, especially in the playoffs,” said Damen Davis ’11. “Although we weren’t playing them in the finals, the rivalry was hyped up as it always is.”

As they normally do, the Coast Guard relied on the strength of their forwards to pound the ball down the field. While this strategy has worked for them in the past, Saturday’s match was a different story.

“This was the first time in my memory we were the more physical team than the Coast Guard,” said Levine. “While there were a lot of great plays from our forwards and backs,” said fly half Ben Cmejla ’11, “it was our hard nosed defense that won the game.”

Great plays from eight man Dan Chow ’09 and lock Sam Tormey ’09 in particular highlighted the defensive prowess the Panthers possess. Another bright spot was the play of flankers Rowan Kelner ’12 and Ross Berriman ’12.

On Sunday, the match-up against Maine was much more of a man-to-man battle. Hooker Chris Vandergrift ’11 and wing Spencer Paddock ’09 were particularly dominant.

“Vandergrift faced up against the all-Northeast captain,” recounted Levine, “and he absolutely shut him down.”

Paddock, who suffered a torn labrum in the second week of the season which still has not fully recovered, also contained his man in his first full game back since the injury. “He was matched up against their second best player,” said Levine, “and in his first game back completely shut him down.”

The season continues for the Panthers this weekend with the quarterfinals of the Northeast Championships followed by the Northeast Finals the following weekend. The team knows there is still a long way to go before clinching the Northeast Championships, but feels very confident about its chances. Winning the Northeast will allow them to pursue the National Championship next spring, which they also won in 2007.

“We have a great shot to win nationals this year,” said flanker Chris Marshall ’11. “We have a bunch of guys injured right now, and when we get them back for the spring, we’ll be a lot stronger. There’s no reason why we can’t.”

This year’s team is the strongest there has been in a number of years, centered around a core of seniors and sophomores. “If we play as well as we did on Saturday,” said Levine, “we can be competitive with most any team in the country.”

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