Rugby starts fresh with new coaches and players

By GRAY VAUGHN ’15, Contributing Writer

Andrea Portillo ’14 is tackled by two WPI players. The rugby team’s new coaches have been working with the players to improve their skills and tactics, including offensive moves like tackling.

Andrea Portillo ’14 is tackled by two WPI players. The rugby team’s new coaches have been working with the players to improve their skills and tactics, including offensive moves like tackling.

Rugby’s new coaches is just one of the reasons why the team is off to a good start this season, boasting a 4-1 overall record.

Captains Tori Brown ’15 and Dani Marburgh ’14 are excited about the improvement the team has made thanks to new coaches, such as Tara Roberts, who replaced the prior head coach following her retired in the spring.

“Our new coach has been really great,” said Natalie Griffin ’14, this season’s social chair and last year’s captain. “I was really sad at the end of last season when [prior head coach] Dee Graichen retired because she was really wonderful and a great coach. But Tara Roberts, our new coach, has done an excellent job. She’s completely changed our defensive strategy, and so far it’s been really effective. She’s also really enthusiastic and motivated, and it’s definitely had a positive impact on the team and the season.”

About half of the players are new this season, and Roberts has taken this into consideration, having every player relearn the basics. Brown and Marburgh say her approach has helped the team focus on field dynamics as they happen rather than setting up plays that people new to rugby are not familiar with. Roberts has emphasized letting the players make their own decisions on the field in the heat of the moment.

“It’s a good style of coaching because we are working on being a well-rounded team,” Brown said.

The new strategy has affected the way team veterans like Marburgh view the game.

“The drills for this season are all new,” she said. “I go onto the field and I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s sort of like taking a class at Wellesley.”

The rookie players have shown their dedication to learning the sport and taking feedback in stride.

“Our rookies are also fantastic,” Griffin said. “They’re very eager to learn and have been working really hard, and it’s been super exciting to see them shine so early in their rugby career.”

Griffin also noted the work done by new assistant coach Anne Venner to help the backs–—the part of the team that usually runs the ball to score tries—work together as a group on the field and tighten their offensive line. Ben Carr, the assistant coach for the forwards, has focused this season on perfecting scrums, or group tackles made when there is some discrepancy on the field, in the defensive line.

The team’s 4-1 record is impressive given how many of the players started their careers in September. The team has improved since their first game, a 12-10 loss to WPI. They’ve won four straight games, including a thrilling 33-32 contest against WPI when Wellesley had a chance for a rematch on Oct. 5. Griffin made four five-point tries and Brown and Ari Rodriguez ’16 each earned points with conversion kicks.

In their match against Babson on October 6, Wellesley won 68-5. In the teams’s latest match on Oct. 27, the team played Framingham State and won 55-40.

It can be tough for club sports to draw a large fan base, but the rugby team doesn’t seem to have a problem securing fans.

“A lot of people showed up to our homecoming game, and it was great to have their support,” Riley Abeles ’16 said.

The rugby team is traditionally close-knit, and the team often develops from a group of players into a group of friends. Now that the team members are becoming more comfortable with each other, they should be able to better implement Roberts’ new strategies.

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