Men’s rugby set to face Davenport in national semifinal
By Brett Drucker, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, May 17, 2012
The Dartmouth men’s rugby team will travel to Sandy, Utah this Friday for its Final Four matchup against Davenport University in the 2012 Emirates Airline USA Rugby Men’s Division I-AA National Championship. The game marks the first time the Big Green has reached the Final Four since 1988.
The other semifinal game will feature western regional winner San Diego State University and southern regional winner the University of Tennessee. The victors in the two semifinal matches will play in the national championship game on Saturday.
Dartmouth advanced after defeating Stony Brook University, 42-12, last weekend in the northeastern regional final played at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse in Hanover. It was an unconventional victory for the Big Green, as the team fell into a 12-0 hole to start the game and was forced to make a comeback, something Dartmouth had not had to do all year.
After the shaky start, Dartmouth dominated play for the rest of the game. The Big Green recovered to build a 22-12 lead by halftime before tacking on 20 additional unanswered points in the second half to seal the victory.
“The main lesson from the game is that even if we do get down, we’re not out,” team president Clark Judge ’12 said. “It was a confidence boost in our own ability to face obstacles and overcome them.”
Although the come-from-behind effort was exciting for the players and the Dartmouth fans in attendance, captain Paul Jarvis ’12 said that the team needs to have better starts against better competition.
“We can’t afford to spot opponents points at the start of games,” he said. “Against the elite teams, we really need to come out firing and then keep the momentum and pressure on our side.”
The Big Green will have experience on its side this weekend, as the current senior class boasts eight starters and national-level success after winning the 7s national championship last year.
“It’s very important to have players who have played in pressure-filled games,” Jarvis said. “I think the depth of our senior class will be crucial this weekend.”
In addition to the veterans, the team also carries a strong contingent of younger players who are looking to ensure the continued superiority of the Dartmouth program, which has dominated Ivy League competition for the past four years. The underclassmen are led by fullback Madison Hughes ’15, who scored to tie the game against Stony Brook and has been a valuable addition to the squad all year.
The weekend matches will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium, the 20,000-seat home of Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake. The same venue will also host the Division II Final Four matches this weekend, which will feature Lindenwood University, Utah Valley University, Salisbury University and Towson University.
Judge said that the team is excited to have the chance to play on a pristine field in front of a sizeable crowd, describing the event as a dream come true.
“It’s what every athlete wants — playing on a nice field with a lot of people watching and something important on the line,” he said.
Judge noted that maintaining mental control and focusing on the fundamentals under the additional pressure might turn out to be the key to the game and the difference between victory and defeat.
“We need to be communicating with each other and not dropping the ball,” he said. “Turnovers kill you, and if we minimize those mistakes, we’ll be good.”
Davenport, Dartmouth’s opponent, advanced to the national semifinal with a 31-11 victory over the University of Wisconsin in its regional final. On Friday, a major part of the Big Green’s strategy will be forcing the tempo of the match and controlling some of Davenport’s dynamic playmakers.
“We are working on a very aggressive defense that should put their attackers under a lot of pressure,” Jarvis said. “We need to dictate the terms of the game from the start and put the game on our terms.”
The Big Green moved down to Division I-AA during the offseason, mostly due to the large costs of playing in the I-A division. Despite the change in competition, the team remains energized for the opportunity to extend its season and play for the team’s first ever championship in 15s.
“We’ve had the goal of winning the national championship in the back of our minds all season,” Ryan Milligan ’12 said.
A total of four matches will kick off at 11 a.m. local time on Friday, and Dartmouth will first take the field at 5 p.m. The Division I-AA championship game will be played on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us to represent the club and Dartmouth as a whole on such a big stage,” Milligan said.