Yejadai Dunn ’16 wasn’t even the first person to find out that she was named second team All-American, Dartmouth’s first women’s rugby All-American since Kirsten Ahrendt ’07 was named to the first team seven years ago.
“I didn’t know about the award until some person I knew faintly from rugby texted me, and I was like, ‘What?’” Dunn said.
In fact, the nomination came from somebody outside Dartmouth’s program. The rugby team recently joined the American Collegiate Rugby Association, so coaches were unsure if they could still nominate players for the award.
“I usually submit nominations, and I would have submitted one for her but someone else did, so it’s a true honor,” head coach Debra Archambault ’85 said.
Dunn did not play rugby in high school, and teammates note her progress over the past few years.
To forwards captain Allie Brouckman ’15, Dunn has mastered the technical aspects of the game.
“When she was a true freshman, it was very much just, ‘Go, go, go’ wherever the ball was,” Brouckman said. “And now she still has the same aggression, but a lot of finesse to her play as well.”
The Big Green is coming off of a 92-5 win over Columbia University and holds a 3-3 record, with all three wins coming in Ivy play. Dunn has been a large part of the team’s success over the past few years, teammates said, demonstrating toughness and ability.
“On the field, we call it a ‘Yeja moment,’” Brouckman said. “She’ll get tackled, get back up, pick up the ball, get tackled, get back up, get tackled, pick up the ball, over and over again all the way down the field, and that’s definitely the definition of how Yeja is as a player.”
Her gritty playing style has not gone unnoticed by her teammates during Dunn’s three years on the team.
“You’d much rather be playing on her team than against her,” rugby president Michaela Conway ’15 said.
As a freshman, Dunn had to rehab preexisting injuries. Even though she came to the Big Green very strong and already a good athlete, her abilities were particularly suited to rugby, Archambault said.
“I’m glad she’s on our team,” Archambault said. “The referees notice her, the other coaches notice her, the other players notice her — she’s very dynamic.”
Despite Dunn’s feared reputation on the field, her teammates describe an entirely different person off of it.
“One of the best people in the world,” said Conway, “She’s wonderful. Great friend, great person.”
Dunn’s dedication and commitment were apparent through last spring when the Big Green women’s team won the Ivy League sevens title before finishing fourth in the ACRA Rugby Sevens Nationals.
Even just last week against Columbia, Dunn flashed new facets of her game that surprised and impressed her coach.
“Yeja came busting down the field and sort of set up one of the wings for a beautiful try and just had a great time doing it,” Archambault said. “You can see her looking all over the place, looking for someone to pass to. So, you know, the fact that she’s sort of developing a full game that includes more than just tackling and running with the ball is awesome.”
Dunn has both a powerful build and top-level speed, Archambault said. This gives the junior from Apple Valley, California, the chance to play at the club sport level after college.
“I don’t see too many flankers with the skill set that she has in our league,” said Archambault.
Dunn attributes her success to her team, her coach and the support they give her.
“They’ve been wonderful and supporting me through the entire process and you can only get good with a supportive team, I think,” she said.
Dunn and the women’s rugby team next take the field at the Ivy 15s Championship on Nov. 1.