Vassar Stories

Men’s Rugby Heads to Nationals

Until he came to Vassar, men’s rugby captain Nicholas Graham ’15 had never played the game in his life and had only a vague understanding of the rules. “I’d heard you couldn’t pass the ball forward – that was about the extent of my knowledge,” Graham says.

Vassar Rugby Men's 7s Team, winners of the Tri-State Conference 7s Championship / Photo: Keith Sneddon

On Memorial Day weekend, Graham and his teammates, only one of whom had ever played rugby before coming to Vassar, will be vying for the national championship. Vassar is one of 12 teams in the country to qualify for the U.S. Rugby National Collegiate 7s Division II tournament May 23 and 24 in Denver. The games call for seven players on a side rather than the 15 in traditional rugby. All games will be streamed live on Vassar’s first three games are Saturday at 10:40 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5:20 p.m. Eastern time.

It’s the first time in Vassar history that the men’s team will be playing for a national title. The women’s team has participated in several national tournaments, most recently in December 2013 when the Brewers finished third at the American Collegiate Rugby Association Final Four in Auburndale, FL.

Coach Tony Brown says that while Vassar is clearly an underdog, the seven-player format gives all teams a better chance of winning. “Because the field is so much more open, there’s a lot more unpredictability in 7s,” Brown says.

Men’s rugby captain Nicholas Graham ’15 / Photo: Stockton Photo Inc.

The coach chose 13 players from his 45-man roster to make the trip. “Basically, you need fast guys who are also sure tacklers,” Brown says. “There are only seven players out there and the games are only 14 minutes long, so one missed tackle can lead to an instant score and turn the game around quickly.”

The 12 teams in the tournament are divided into three four-team groups. Each team will play the other three in its group in games May 23, and the top eight teams in pool play qualify for the championship round, which concludes May 24.

Vassar qualified for the national championships by defeating six other teams in the Tri-State Conference 7s tournament April 13 on the Vassar campus. Brown says he didn’t even mention the possibility of going to the national tournament to his players until after they’d won that event. He thanked President Catherine Bond Hill for providing the funding to allow the team to make the trip to Denver.

 “We’re extremely grateful to the college for its support,” the coach says. “Win or lose, it’s a great opportunity for these young men to represent their school on a national stage. It validates all the hard work they’ve put in for the last four years.”

Graham, a biology major from Redondo Beach, CA, says he is organizing some training sessions for the team with conditioning coach Cam Williams, and he’s scheduled some distance running and sprinting drills. But Brown isn’t ramping up the practice sessions. “This is an extremely busy time of the year academically for all our players, especially the seniors, and it’s always been part of our mission that nothing we do should ever conflict with academics,” he says.

Graham’s academic schedule is a case in point: While most of the players will take a morning flight to Denver on May 21, he won’t be leaving until that evening. “I have a German final to take that morning,” he says. “But going to the championships is a great way to cap what’s been an excellent four years at Vassar.”

--Larry Hertz

Posted Friday, May 1, 2015