BRUNSWICK, Maine - The Bowdoin College women's rugby team won the inaugural New England Small College Rugby Conference Championship with a 15-10 win over Middlebury on Saturday afternoon at Pickard Field.
The Polar Bears finish their fall slate unblemished with a 10-0 record and earn a bid to the National Division II Championships that will be held next spring.
Middlebury came out hoping to avenge their 26-0 regular season loss to the Polar Bears three weeks ago. The first 35 minutes of rugby saw two well-matched teams battle for field position. Unable to run through the Panther backline, flyhalf Emily Athanas-Linden resorted to an effective kick strategy to find space for her teammates downfield; while the chasers did well to pin Middlebury down, they were unable to create turnover ball, and Bowdoin found themselves defending again. Several long runs by Townsend were unsupported and the defensive efforts of both teams kept the game scoreless until five minutes before halftime.
Bowdoin's forwards and halfbacks controlled a series of rucks and steadily advanced the ball past midfield, when it was sprung down the backline to wing Charlotte Kleiman, who broke through the defense and ran the ball hard 30 meters toward the goal line. The Panther cover defense, as they'd done all game, made the tackle just meters from the line, but the head's up play to keep her feet by Kleiman and the quick support of Dani McAvoy kept the ball in play until support arrived. Off the quick ruck that McAvoy set, co-captain Uche Esonu picked up the ball and dove over the tryline. Missing the conversion, Bowdoin led at intermission, 5-0.
Bowdoin picked up the intensity as the second half began and continued to look for holes in the Panther defense. Lynn Freedman controlled most of the lineouts, and the 9/10 halfbacks, Kam Sanchez and Athanas-Linden once again went to work passing the ball and running it out the backline. On a third phase ball, Bowdoin finally caught the Middlebury defense out of alignment and Charlotte Kleiman caught the pass at pace and turned on her speed to the outside. Tackled at the 5-meter line, she kept the ball in play by passing to the support runner, fullback and co-captain Kerry Townsend, who dove over the line for the try. With a near miss on the conversion kick, Bowdoin's lead increased to 10-0.
Ten minutes later, Bowdoin found themselves attacking again, deep in Middlebury territory, but lost the ball. As the Panther #10 tried to kick the ball into touch to relieve pressure, Dani McAvoy blocked the kick and fell on the ball in the endzone, giving Bowdoin a 15-0 lead.
Undaunted by the score, Middlebury rebounded and forced Bowdoin to stretch their defense across the field. Maintaining possession for several phases, they passed it out wide, and used the overlap to score two successive tries. With minutes to play, Bowdoin held onto the ball and the game. Outstanding play from McAvoy, Esonu, Maddie Baird, Freedman, Kleiman and Townsend, along with great support from all the Polar Bears sealed their undefeated season and the conference championship.
In the plate championship (third-place) NESCRC match between Colby and Tufts, the Mules opened early with a penalty kick and led 3-0. Later in the first half, the Jumbos applied the pressure, retained possession and moved the ball down field for the un-converted try and led at the half, 5-3. The 2nd half continued with lots of back and forth momentum shifts in a well-played match. Colby scored a try and made the conversion, and led 11-5 but Tufts kept storming back, finally scoring another try to bring the score to 11-10. The conversion kick, from a wide angle, just cleared the upright and crossbar, giving Tufts the 12-11 victory.