It was pretty much the opposite of a quiet Saturday morning brunch, a rough-and-tumble rugby match in which 15 fierce and brawny Harvard women relentlessly tackled Princeton’s players to move the ball up the pitch and score.

The new varsity team trounced the Tigers, 36-0.

Beginning this season, the scrappy rugby sisterhood became more than a club, as the first Harvard sport to achieve varsity designation since 1993. The Harvard-Radcliffe Women’s Rugby Club dated to 1982, and continued for more than 30 years with a legacy of strong coaches and determined players.

The club made a compelling argument for varsity status in the spring of 2011, when it won the USA Rugby Collegiate Division II National Championship, with a 22-10 upset victory over Notre Dame.

With losses to Quinnipiac and Dartmouth at the start of this season, the ruggers went on to beat five other rivals and on Nov. 2 and 3 bested both Brown and Dartmouth in the conference championship in New Hampshire.

Its winning record has qualified the team for the national tournament in the spring. For now, though, the players can savor not a formal dinner for the genteel, but even better, the Ancient Eight title they earned in this inaugural season as a varsity team.

 

1 While the varsity status achieved by women’s rugby is important on Harvard’s campus, farther-reaching are the changes the players hope will come in the Ivy League and in women’s rugby on the national stage. Rugby will be played in the Olympics for the first time in 2016.
2 Ball carrier Madison Singell gains yardage against Quinnipiac. Rugby is the only full-contact women’s sport at Harvard.
3 Kellie Desrochers ’13 (left) and Jennifer Middleton ’10 cheer on their former club teammates, now varsity women.
4 Harvard defenders Aniebiet Abasi (top) and Audrey Carson (bottom) take a down a Princeton player (with ball).
5 Helen Clark passes an on-field concussion test administered by athletic trainer Corey Lanois during the Princeton game. Helmets are not required but some players wear them to protect against cauliflower ear, a complication resulting from ear injuries.
6 Cayla Calderwood gets taken down by Princeton defenders.
7 Kellie Desrochers ‘13 (from left), Marlee Morris ’12, and Meg McCarty ’12, an alumnae pack of former Harvard-Radcliffe ruggers, returned to watch their successors battle Princeton.
8 Xanni Brown (left) evades a Princeton defender in a match. Harvard won, 36-0.
9 Audrey Carson, foreground, and others work on passing techniques.
10 Lenica Morales-Valenzuela (from left), Hope Schwartz, Ali Haber, and Xanni Brown react to coach Sue Parker’s practice plan.
11 Head coach Sue Parker brought extensive experience to Harvard, including most recently serving as the coach for Navy.
12 Assistant coach Sue Whitwell observes the underside mechanics of the scrum.
13 Brandy Machado grips Rachael Stein’s legs during a scrum technique drill.
14 Aniebiet Abasi (left) and Kaleigh Henry focus on improving strength in a pushing drill.
15 Helen Clark works on her catching technique in practice.
16 Rachael Stein (forefront) and teammates warm up before playing Quinnipiac in their first match as a varsity squad.