CAMBRIDGE, MA – Championship season for the Fall of 2019 officially kicks off this weekend as the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) heads into a jam-packed day of Women’s NCAA rugby. After an exciting line up of semifinals, six teams head to Cambridge, Massachusetts for their shot at this year’s title. After defeating 2018 Champion Dartmouth, Harvard clashes with Army after the Black Knights beat 2017 Champion Quinnipiac. A new champion will be crowned in Tier II as Brown University and West Chester University go head-to-head. To tie it all up, DIII finalists University of New England and Bowdoin College clash following a dramatic semifinal round. All matches will be streaming LIVE on ESPN+.
In a changing of the guard for Tier I, the top seat in NIRA will see new champion where Dartmouth and Quinnipiac have held strong ground over the past few years. With both clubs falling in the semifinals to Harvard and Army respectively, the Crimson will look to capture home-field advantage and claim the title they just missed out on last year.
Harvard Head Coach, Mel Denham, had mentioned her club’s efforts in overcoming obstacles to get into the Championship. “Last year when [we] lost to Dartmouth in the final, that really resonated with our club to continuously improve and to take advantage of every opportunity presented to us.” Denham continued, “We had recently beaten Dartmouth in the semis, to go onto the finals this year, which has helped our team get over mental hurdles, and prepare ourselves to finish what we started.”
Army however is flying high as the ride a 7-1 record into the championship with the last three games tallying over 50 points. More notably, both teams met back in September where the Black Knights won, 34-10.
Army WRFC Head Coach, Bill Leclerc, commented on this weekend’s matchup against a well-coached Harvard side. “Mel [Denham] for Harvard has helped put her club in a very strong position for this upcoming match. They have great set-pieces and their backs are incredibly fast and smart.” Leclerc continued, “Although Harvard is a very good team indeed, we are as well.
“The cadets with us have been grinding all season long, making sacrifices and bettering themselves week-in and week-out. At the end of the day, being in the Championship is an enjoyable experience, where the team will need to play to the best of their potential in order to leave everything on the field.”
Harvard vs Army kicks off at 2PM ET on ESPN+
Undefeated in 2019, West Chester University will head north up the Atlantic coast for a September 7th rematch with Brown University. The Bears fell to the Rams by an 11-point margin that was much closer through the first 60 minutes. Having twice defeated Queens University in the weeks leading up to the championship, West Chester seems to be on a roll as they look to make up for the early season loss and take home some hardware in the process.
Brown Head Coach, Kathy Flores, talks about the origination of their club’s success thus far, “This has been a good season for us. Last year we barely had enough numbers and this year we have almost two full teams, quite a change. It has not only been our recruited players but our on campus walk ons that have helped make us much stronger and competitive this season. Having a winning season was the goal and being the finals is the icing on the cake.”
Tony DeRemer, Head Coach of West Chester Women’s Rugby, explains his excitement for the club’s upcoming weekend; “We at West Chester are very proud and excited to be participating in our first NIRA Championship event. This has been our very first undefeated season in program history as the team has gone 10-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play. We have a great core of players starting with our energetic and determined senior class, through our experienced junior and sophomore classes and into our strong group of freshmen this fall that have made quite an impact on the team.”
DeRemer continued, “There have been many tough practices and matches, milestones have been achieved during the season, and one big match remains. We look forward to our matchup with Brown University, who has become a friendly rival over the past few years.”
Making its championship debut, Division III action is led by the University of New England and Bowdoin College. The Bowdoin Polar Bears fronted one of the more nail-biting semifinals against Norwich where they squeaked away with a 12-7 win off a second half try that would be the only points from both teams in the later 40 minutes. In an equally tight but shootout style match between Colby-Sawyer and University of New England, a late converted try from the Nor’easters clinched a spot in the inaugural DIII finals. New England fell to Bowdoin as recently as October, but nothing spells momentum better than an inspired upset in the playoffs.
Head Coach for Bowdoin College, MaryBeth Mathews, had these remarks on the club’s enthusiasm for the postseason. “The rugby program at Bowdoin College has a long history of winning seasons and post-season championship opportunities and we are proud to be representing the College and Division 3 NCAA rugby this weekend. This team is young and yet their commitment to each other and their hunger to play good rugby makes them a joy to coach! They work hard and improve each day, each week, each game, and to have that pay off by reaching the finals makes us all proud.”
Mathews concluded, “We are grateful for the support from Bowdoin College Athletics, our athletic trainer, parents and fans, from NIRA, USA Rugby and everyone who works for the growth of the game for girls and women!”
About USA Rugby
Established in 1975, USA Rugby is the governing body for the sport of rugby in America and a Full Sport Member of the United States Olympic Committee. Currently headquartered in Lafayette, Colorado, USA Rugby is charged with developing the game on all levels and has more than 120,000 active members across the youth, High School, College and Senior club level. USA Rugby oversees four national teams, multiple collegiate and High School All-American sides, and an emerging Olympic development pathway for elite athletes. It also hosts more than 30 national playoff and championship events each year as a service to its members. In 2018, USA Rugby welcomed the world for Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, the first-ever Rugby World Cup hosted on American soil. With over 100,000 in attendance, the event broke various American records and has acted as a launching point for the game’s future growth. Visit www.usarugby.org for more information.