The Running Wolverine: Ember Larson
The Running Wolverine: Ember Larson
Two years running, now, the University of Michigan has won the NCR Women’s D1 championship, both times beating a school-supported team in Notre Dame College in the final.
At the center of that effort is elusive and speedy fullback Ember Larson. When fans and opposing coaches and experts all watch Michigan, they are impressed with the overall team skill and their open play, but they all agree that Larson is a game-changer.
Larson didn’t play rugby until she entered Michigan. She had played several sports before college but rowed crew seriously. She chose to walk on at for the crew team, and got some advice from her dad, Greg, who walked on as a hockey player at Wisconsin.
She rowed and rowed successfully before switching to rugby.
The Rower Embraces Rugby
“Crew helped me a lot,” Larson told GRR. “It gave me a really good conditioning base. But I played in a lot of sports so when I started playing rugby I really saw elements of every sport I had played in it.”
After helping her Eight win the 2021 Big Ten Championship and finish 4th in the NCAA, Larson founder herself, in the spring of 2022, playing 7s for the Wolverines rugby team.
Playing 7s came fairly easy for her. She had the fitness and the speed to carve up defenses.
“I played a lot of soccer and my dad played a lot of hockey and the same principles apply,” she said. “You’re looking for space.”
But she stayed because of the way the team supported each other. That was why she ended up playing 15s in the fall, and sparking Michigan to a NCR title and a nod as a MA Sorensen Award finalist.
“Playing 15s was a bit of a surprise because I had just played 7s and suddenly there’s a lot less space,” she said. “I was looking at the rucks and being a back I really had no clue. But I learned.”
As did everyone else.
Team Drives Individual Success
“The team is really special,” she said. “We just like being around each other, and traveling seven hours in a van to go play a game you need that unity. It’s just really great having those kinds of teammates around you. We focus on just enjoying playing rugby and having fun—because we’re a club sport we all chose to be here at Michigan for other reasons, so we all want to be here and it shows.”
That unity was key against a Notre Dame College team that had plenty of talent and very strong forwards. Making possession count was at a premium and, interestingly, Larson found herself taking more of a back seat. Everyone knew about her, so it was a simple task to try to key on her (containment was a different issue).
“What happened this year was that everyone, the whole team, was scoring tries,” she said. “So I could take on a different role and work more within the team rather than rely on an individual play. NDC put us under so much pressure we had to work together.”
So Larson gives a nod to wing Grace Codd, who was MVP of the final (although Larson was heavily involved in Michigan’s scores), flyhalf Katie Gale, who scored a huge try in the final, and centers Marika Ruppart and Barb Ribeiro, and in the forwards prop Rebecca Dooley and flanker Audrey Corriere—they all were huge contributors to the championship run.
But it’s worth noting, as we’re singling out one player here, that Larson drew a double-team and made the setup pass as she was tackled (hard) to put Codd through for the first try; two key plays set up Gale’s try; and her acceleration and awareness put her through for another try in the final.
So, yeah, Larson is pretty good, too.
What’s next for the Michigan fullback? She is graduating soon and still has some college eligibility left. The Movement Science major will be looking toward a graduate degree, and might actually play in university in Canada.
Having been in the USA U23s camp and a USA 7s team ID camp, she is on the USA radar.
“I love it, I love playing rugby, and I am really excited about the future,” she said.
We’re excited about her future, too.