Goff Rugby Twitter     Goff Rugby Facebook

Tri-State Titans Go Tête-à-Tête

irish rugby tours

Tri-State Titans Go Tête-à-Tête

Vassar co-captain Darienne Jones doing what she does best. (Photo courtesy Vassar Athletics)

For Vassar and Rutgers, Sunday's conference championship is less about winning the Tri-State title and more about gauging the strength of their respective rosters. The pair have already guaranteed their places in the DII fall Round of 32, and regardless of Sunday's outcome, both will host their playoff-openers. Furthermore, the duo will both compete at Vassar should they advance to the Round of 16.

With logistics a non-issue, the Tri-State powers can focus internally. Overall Vassar is 7-1 and that two-point loss came against the New York Women Developmental XV. Against collegiate teams, the Brewers have outscored opponents 470-56. The Poughkeepsie school beat Molloy 88-0 and Marist 55-10 in the conference playoffs.

“We’re better than we were last year,” Vassar coach Tony Brown said. “We have more speed, more pace out wide. We only graduated six starters and we’ve managed to replace them – not with rookies but with players who were ready to move up.”

Loosehead prop Darienne Jones and center Cierra Thomas are the field captains, while No. 8 Taylor Nunley manages the morale of the squad.

“Darienne, she can move and she can hit,” Brown laughed as he recalled a practice highlight. “She hits people head-on, a good form tackler. I was holding one of the bags at practice, and Darienne was coming toward me. She knocked me right over – a bonafied hit, hooked the leg, and I was down. I’m 247 lbs.”

Jones uses that power to get over the try line, and she leads the Brewers with 16 this season. Right behind her is co-captain Thomas, who has 14 scores to her credit. Fullback Rachel Elson also has 14 tries, followed by flanker Nathalie Freeman (10) and Nunley (9).

Thomas works well with Laila Blumenthal-Rothchild, who moved from fullback to center this season. She’s proven to be a better weapon with more touches on the ball, and has scored seven tries this season.

The aforementioned lead an experienced roster, one that is more battle-worn than last year, and Brown thinks that edge will come into play against Rutgers Sunday.

“They’re a well organized team and generally have good athletes,” Brown said of Rutgers. “They had a lot of fifth-year seniors last year so they might be more vulnerable this year. They haven’t been as dominant.”

Rutgers will undeniably be the best competition that Vassar has faced this fall, and the push-back will give the Brewers a good understanding of exactly how good they are.

“They beat us twice last year, so they have no fear of us,” Brown added. “It’s a good, healthy rivalry. I think it’ll be a good game.”

Rutgers has not had the ideal run-up to playoffs. Prior to the semifinals, the New Jersey side was served a forfeit win from Siena College, had a bye week, and lost a controversial 17-10 game to Hofstra. Coach Ken Pape, however, was happy with what he saw in the 28-10 semifinal win against Albany last weekend.

“I was very pleased with our defense,” the coach said. “We had three hard practices during the week before the semifinals, and had three film sessions to break down Albany on attack and learn their tendencies on defense. The players were then able to identify these things in the game and adjust.”

That’s standard practice in the Rutgers camp. Last year, the team filmed all of their games and has been reviewing footage to learn teams’ and coaches’ habits. Against Albany, Rutgers was ready for quick-ball off the top of the lineout, followed by the 9/10 channel attack. In phase play, Rutgers knew Albany would attack the one channel off the back of the ruck, and after a few iterations swing the ball to its powerful centers.

“We focused on flooding the fringe and launching our defense at their 10 and 12, so they couldn’t get the ball outside of their 12,” Pape said.

Rutgers is applying that same methodology in advance of Sunday’s conference final.

“We’ve reviewed the film and know Tony’s tendencies,” Pape said. “He’s going to try some misdirection in the backs and take advantage of quick penalties. They don’t do anything exciting in the lineouts, which is fine with us, but are very prescriptive in getting the ball to their 10’s hands. She’s very athletic and has a good foot. So we’ve been preparing our counterattack.”

While it’s naïve to believe that neither team will be gunning for the conference title, Pape reiterated that the primary goal is insight into the depth of his squad.

“We’re going to put four or five regulars out and then some players who need big-game experience,” the coach explained. “There will be several new girls getting their first starts – conference championship, that’s a big game. I want to know if they can compete at a high level, if we can use them down the road. It’ll give me a good idea of where we’re at.

“If we see that the game is in reach, then we might make some adjustments with those players,” Pape added.

The conference final will be a good game, but so will the third-place match between Albany and Marist. The pair are fighting for third Tri-State berth to the Round of 32, and the victor will travel to Ithaca College on Nov. 14.