UMass Dartmouth rugby kicks into the regular season

by Christopher Cohen, Sports Editor

After representing the Northeast Region in the National Small College Rugby Organization’s National Championship in December 2015 the UMass Dartmouth Women’s Rugby returned to the field as they co-hosted alongside the men’s squad and the rugby club of Salve Regina University.

Kicking off at 10 a.m. the women’s team caught a light breeze under clouded skies to relish in a tinge of relief from a glaring sun.

Last season’s outcome between the women’s teams featured the Corsairs toppling Salve 103-7. Yet with several of last season’s Nationals representatives graduating from the university, this women’s unit put themselves in place to adjust to a new unit of old faces in new places, as well as new faces in earned spaces.

With just about two weeks to rebuild chemistry and establish the front and back sequences, the women were anxious to host the long awaited match.

Upon the whistle the women were released from the summer season stall that had separated the #15asONE unit.

The unit quickly attacked a recovering Salve defense that appeared unprepared to contend with the fluidity of the Corsairs backline passing. After a series of progressive movements deep into Salve’s half of the field, a quick recovery by one of the defending wings kicked the ball successfully to midfield, pushing back the Corsairs eager offense.

The Corsairs showed consistency in their follow-up support to ruck the ball as each player trudged down the field, shaking defenders and shattering ankles as the opening score of the match was sought.

Off a Salve kick, Serena Amado received the ball and hopped between two defenders before dishing the ball right down the line to an open midfield where the Corsairs were able to take advantage of an open thirty yards.

Shortly into the drive, Sarah Berry tossed the ball to an awaiting Amado for the Corsairs first try of the season in the twenty-second minute of the match. Amado started the match for her first time at full back after starring in her opening season on the wing last year. The offense missed the kick, unfortunately, as the teams returned for kickoff 5-0.

Salve would answer five minutes later with their first try of the match. Their conversion kick was unsuccessful, and the score remained 5-5.

The Salve attack gained momentum in the closing minutes of the first half, pushing the Corsair defense deep into their own offensive zone.

Another loose ball was recovered by Amado, who was able to shatter the defensive line to move the ball back onto the other side of the field as the Corsairs jumped back up to close out the half.

Each side made their way to the benches split at 5-5 after 40 minutes of play. Despite the sub-par show of expectations, the women recognized they were making simple mistakes in order to rebound for an improved performance in the second half.

The Corsairs entered the try zone for the second time eight minutes into the second half. Another missed conversion kept the score at 10-5; yet it would not be too long before the women’s squad would return.

Serena Amado would score her second try of the season, and the Corsairs third try of the match to elevate UMass Dartmouth ahead 15-5 with just over twemty-five minutes to go.

Endurance began to take a toll as the close of the game began to become clearer. Salve Regina quickly put together series after series of successful offensive sequence to jump ahead of the Corsairs, 17-15 with a successful conversion kick attempt.

UMass Dartmouth hastily composed themselves in order to alternate the course of upset. With eight minutes left in the match the Corsairs would break through Salve’s defensive line and break ahead 20-17.

The Corsairs would return to the try zone one last time to lift the club up for a 27-17 final score.

Following a triumphant display of chemistry last season, the women continued to exhibit a comparable go forward edge, while maintaining the recognition that excellence is a constantly evolving process.

The women’s successful route of Salve Regina led to the men’s clubs to take the field for their noon kickoff.

The clouds had largely disappeared by the time of the men’s match, and the breeze had left the competing athletes to the free eighty degrees.

Before taking the field Club Advisor Captain Sheehan instructed his players to, “…support each other” against a Salve Regina club with a physically agile reputation.

Salve’s first offensive series effectively pushed a defense that was constantly on their toes to keep at bay. A series of stops from the Corsairs’ front line prompted the ball to fall into the hands of Salve’s back-line where Douglas Cooper and Aidan Fitzsimmons were waiting to strip possession.

Cooper’s swipe allowed Fitzsimmons to catch and kick the ball deep out of the Corsair zone and back beyond midfield where Salve Regina was forced to regain their offensive control.

UMass Dartmouth forward Pat Briggs arrived anxiously to half any momentum while Salve redirected toward midfield hoping to break through an open hole.

Unfortunately for Salve Regina, captain Chris Holman leaped in-between the Salve offense to intercept the midfield possession.

Holman made a break across field towards the right-sideline where fellow senior wing Cooper was waiting to razzle-dazzle the ball between the defense for a gain of 25 yards.

The Corsairs would struggle to maintain possession and field position due to penalties. Yet consistent defensive stops from Mike Lan and Justin McKinney allowed the Corsairs to hold an experienced Salve Regina unit to 12-0 in the first half of play.

A physical first half ended with another glimmer of optimism as J.D. Niles and John Melanson would support the back-line for a final go at a first-half try conversion.

Salve Regina would score to start off the second half, yet the Corsairs would find the score zone for the first time this season as Mike Lan would break through the defense for the club’s first try of the season.

A successful conversion attempt by John Melanson would pull UMass Dartmouth to a 17-7 deficit.

Unfortunately, Salve Regina would not make the same mistakes twice, and weariness did not appear to be a factor. Salve Regina would find the try zone unanswered for two straight possessions to push their lead to 27-7 with under nine minutes of game play.

A shimmer of hope appeared as J.D. Niles broke through for the game’s final score for the Corsairs. Yet with just moments to go on the clock, the whistle blew with the board stating 27-12 in favor of the visiting Salve Regina University Club.

Overall each club exhibited their defining qualities of excellence, particularly on the defensive end of the field. Although the women’s club did not win by their usual forty plus points per game, they still managed to come together to get the job done. And despite the opening loss, the men’s club held their toughest season opponent just a three score match as they filled in a series of positions with developing talent.

This Saturday showed each club they’ve got plenty of work to do as they prepare to embark and progress on their 2016 campaign. Anyone interested in joining the club may attend practices Monday-Friday on the practice fields behind the gym at 4:30 p.m., or reach out on the UMass Dartmouth Rugby Facebook page for assistance and information.

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