After losing their respective semifinals on Saturday, Vassar College and Kutztown University played for third place in the American Collegiate Rugby Association’s DII championship. Both played extremely physical games the day prior, but it was the Poughkeepsie side that ended the tournament on a win, 24-15.
“That felt good,” Vassar scrumhalf Margaret Kwateng said of the victory. “Ending our fall 2013 season with a win, with our coach who’s only here in the fall and with the players who aren’t going to be playing in the spring – it was a good way to end.”
But that ending didn’t come without bumps and bruises. Kutztown employs a devastating pick-and-go through the forwards, and as long as the team controls its handling and stays disciplined, the Pennsylvania side can walk the ball from one tryline to the other.
“They had played at our school during the Round of 16, so we knew a little bit about their game,” said Kwateng, who scored all of Vassar’s tries this weekend. “They had really big forwards who were really strong in their scrums and picks. We had to practice one person tackling low, one person going high. We had a defense for this but it was of course still challenging. They were rumbling forward.”
In the first half, Vassar was able to absorb the Kutztown attack for the most part. Kwateng herself did an excellent job of planting her shoulder into ballcarriers, as did injured No. 8 Dallas Robinson, who gutted out a tough game. Meanwhile, players like flankers Meg Slattery and Hannah Fink pierced the Kutztown line, and the backs started to spread the defense.
“We have a game plan where if we get quick-ruck ball then we can get it out and start running,” Kwateng said. “I think our backs had a little bit of pace on theirs, so that helped with the go-forward. Kutztown had to continually get on-sides, which helped us to recycle quickly.”
And it helped to have Kwateng always on the ball. She was the first to credit her teammates for putting Vassar in scoring position, but the halfback’s sheer athleticism and field vision are what put points on the board.
“Our forwards do so much work,” Kwateng reflected on her seven tries last weekend. “It just so happens that the way our game works, number 9 is in the position to take that dive for the try. I’m always there making the call to pass or pick it, so I’m going to be the first person to do it. Our coaches have been telling me to run like I’m going to score, so I’ve been having that in mind. Once we’re at the line, I have to get over it.”
Kwateng ran in two first-half tries, while Mary Margaret McElduff slotted a conversion for the 12-0 lead. Kutztown all-star and lock Faith Hughes could not be subdued for long, as the all-tournament selection ran one in for the 12-5 scoreline at half.
Kwateng repeated her first-half effort with two tries in the second stanza, and with McElduff’s conversion, the 24-5 lead felt comfortable.
And then Kutztown launched a relentless campaign inside Vassar’s 22 meter, spending the entire fourth quarter gunning for the tryline. Kate Ludwick was the first to dive over after a systematic pick-and-go at the line (24-10), and the next kickoff saw play return to the same.
Unfortunately for Kutztown, the team didn’t vary its attack enough to stress Vassar. As perfectly formed backlines – sometimes under-guarded – awaited in the open-field, the attack was resolved in keeping the ball in tight. The couple of times the ball did spin out, the ball crashed back inside and didn’t stretch the field.
With time winding down, however, the ball finally made it to wing Nicole Delong, who got around the corner for the try, 24-15. But the fourth-quarter surge wasn’t enough and Vassar took home 3rd place in the first-ever ACRA championships.
Kwateng won Vassar’s Sportsmanship Award and was named to the All-Tournament team along with Slattery and Robinson. Kutztown named Hughes as its Sportsmanship recipient, as well as All-Tournament selection along with outside center Tabetha Super.