Women’s rugby team makes it all the way to the elite eight

There aren’t many collegiate teams who can claim the honor of competing at a national level, let alone three times in five years. However, on Nov. 16, 2014, the Marist College Women’s Rugby team took the field as one of the elite eight teams in the country. Although the girls didn’t progress to the championship, they went further than they or the other teams imagined.

With a regular season record of 6-2, the girls made it into nationals on an At-Large bid. Filled with highs and lows during the regular season, the upset victory against the Coast Guard on Nov. 8 solidified their position in the sweet sixteen round against Bloomsburg, whom they defeated 71-17. On the 16th, though, the team fell 22-14 to Bowdin at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire.

Despite the loss, though, this is the best season for the team since spring 2009 when it won the Division II Nationals. For Coach Maren Milliard, this year’s team resembled the 2009 team in spirit, but had its own touch.

The girls during their victory over Fairfield University

The girls during their victory over Fairfield University

“This team is very sophisticated,” Milliard said. “They play at a more polished level and are tremendously skilled; it’s pretty rugby to watch.”

Similar to the 2008-2009 team, the 2014-2015 team has a large core group of seniors. This year’s team boasts 15 seniors who have been playing together since their freshman and sophomore years.

According to Co-captain Gretchen Bradley, this comradery is one of the main reasons behind the team’s success.

“We grew up together and know what it means to each other,” she said. “Our motto is ’15 as one,’ and we play as a unit to accomplish our goals.”

The seniors and coach Maren Milliard

The seniors and coach Maren Milliard

In 2009, those senior girls worked and lived as one as well. Most of the seniors lived together, ate together and just lived and breathed rugby. When the team qualified for the nationals’ finals in Florida, the girls fundraised in order to raise enough money to bring the whole team rather than just the 15 starting players.

For 2009 graduate and member of the rugby team Leanne Fusco, the 2014 team is reminiscent of her experiences and she’s proud that this year’s team is following in the 2009 team’s footsteps.

“When we graduated, the next two years didn’t do as well,” Fusco explained. “They didn’t have the same mentality, but this team has that mentality and I am so excited about this year and this team.”

The season wasn’t perfect, but the imperfections were what drove the season. The team’s loss against Rutgers in the semi-final was the standout moment of the season for Milliard.

“It was a wake-up call,” Milliard said, “and they responded well. They were tested and I think there is less fear and pressure now.”

Through it all, though, the connections and trust among the coaches and athletes has made the seasons so memorable for the athletes, especially Fusco.

“That season was an experience that I will never forget because of our coaches,” Fusco said. “They put so much time and energy in the team, and they made us feel like the most important team at Marist.”

For Co-captain Kali Vohez, the biggest takeaway is what is possible when a team truly clicks as a unit and works as one.

“I’m really proud of everyone and what we accomplished together,” Vohez said. “We had a goal for this season and we’re meeting it thanks to the unity of our team.”

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