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Bowdoin Tops Vassar in Top NIRA v ACRA Crossover Clash

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Bowdoin Tops Vassar in Top NIRA v ACRA Crossover Clash

The Vassar defense tries to corral a tough Bowdoin attack. Photo Lindsay Eisenhart.

Poughkeepsie, NY—In a clash of two of the top lower-division women's college teams from two different competitions, Bowdoin College defeated Vassar College 26-17.

Bowdoin is the leading team in NIRA DIII, and plays in DIII because Bowdoin is a DIII college in other sports. Vassar plays in ACRA, which is a USA Rugby-affiliated DII league, and while Vassar in general is a DIII school, for women's rugby Vassar plays in DII and is a national title contender.

So this was, rightly, seen as a meeting of two similar-level teams, and it proved as much.

It all started well enough for Vassar as the Brewers punished some early Polar Bear mistakes, and Kira Nolan took a tap penalty and set up Emily Howell for the try. But Bowdoin rebounded well. Their scrum was outstanding and repeatedly shoved Vassar back—well enough to not only ruin Vassar's possession but steal some of those put-ins.

That's what happened at the next two scrums and Bowdoin also stole a lineout, setting them up for some slick ballhandling to put Molly Petronzio over the for game-trying try.

Buoyed by their success Bowdoin went through a period of continuity with the forwards punching off the fringes and the backs pushing the ball wide. Their continuity is something Vassar prides themselves on, so it was impressive to see someone else get the lion's share of possession. Vassar defended hard but, according to Head Coach Tony Brown, the tackling was "inconsistent at best."

Mostly, said Brown, that ended up not with missed tackles but with tackles that took a while to execute, giving Bowdoin time to drive past the gain line and keep the Vassar defense backpedaling. When the Vassar defense came up quickly and pressured the Bowdoin backs they were better off.

Vassar got the ball back and got into the Bowdoin 22, but couldn't quite capitalize. Instead the Polar Bears forced a turnover and Sage Kashner kicked a high ball downfield which was caught by Petronzio on the wing. She kept on going and outpaced two defenders for her second try. Petronzio converted her own score and it was 12-5 Bowdoin.

It was a psychological blow to Vassar, as well, as their long period of pressure had not only yielded no points, but Bowdoin had turned the tables and scored.

In the second half Bowdoin built on that momentum. Good reading of the game by flyhalf Catherine Patti saw centers Rebecca Vakarau and Jess Yang exploit some iffy Vassar tackling with some snappy footwork. Both went in for tries, and Petronzio converted both. But between those, Vassar picked up their game a bit and a run of phases allowed Sophia Florida to go over. That made it 19-10 before Yang's effort put the score at 26-10.

But it wasn't over. Vassar had struggled to keep possession as players either were turned over or gave away penalties. But when they fixed that they were tough to stop. A long period of phases, with the forwards swarming in at the breakdown, got the Brewers to the Bowdoin 22. Bowdoing got a scrum but, shockingly, after dominating that part of the game Vassar stole the put-in and Howell took off, fed MC Cicenia, who passed to Nolan for try. Nolan converted that score to make it 26-17, but they would get no closer.

"The team will learn a lot from this loss but probably the most important thing is that they should be bitterly disappointed with the result," said Brown. "To have done some good things and shown that tries could be created just highlights the inadequate areas. The number of errors was horrific, the work rate not nearly enough and the commitment to tackling, consistently, not even close to good enough."

For Bowdoin this was easily their toughest game of the year, as they had topped 40 points in all of their previous four matches. Unbeaten in five games now and leading the NIRA DIII, the Polar Bears look ahead to Army's B side, Maine, and Colby-Sawyer before the NIRA championship weekend November 20, were they will likely face off against Norwich. Bowdoin's captain captain Ashlynn Autrey led the defensive effort with 17 tackles, while Patti added 15.

Bowdoin 26
Tries: Petronzio 2, Vakarau, Yang
Convs: Petronzio 3

Vassar 17
Tries: Howell, Florida, Nolan
Convs: Nolan