Two Ivy League teams travelled to the Collegiate Rugby Championships last weekend, and one walked away in defeat while the other left triumphant.
Penn Rugby headed to PPL Park to take part in its first championship appearance, while Dartmouth was looking to win its third straight title.
In an incidence of tough luck for the Quakers, Penn ended up in the toughest of the five pools, which featured Dartmouth and Arizona, the two teams that ended up in last year’s CRC finals.
The odds were stacked against the Quakers, but they knew that going in.
“We came into the weekend with really no expectations from the wider rugby community or ourselves, really,” captain Doug Swift said. “We were just in it for the experience.”
While Dartmouth has been a rugby powerhouse for much of the last ten years, Penn’s program has just started to grow.
With the construction of Penn Park, the team has finally been able to get some sense of stability, something that the Quakers’ lacked.
“Comparing it to Hill Field, where we used to practice, it’s a world of difference,” coach Omar Foda said. “It’s great to have a legitimate rugby place on campus, in terms of increasing participation, fan participation. Before, when we were on Hill Field, we had to go to Fairmount Park to play.”
With the extra training, the Quakers were invited to participate at the CRCs.
However, over the course of pool play, Penn and Dartmouth took divergent paths. The Big Green went 3-0 on the day while the Quakers lost all of their games.
The losses put Penn into one of the tournament’s consolation brackets, made up of the bottom four teams from pool play. The Quakers were set to square off against Texas.
“Saturday went about how you would expect,” Swift said. “We went into Sunday with the goal of what had become essentially a four-team tournament.”
While Penn prepared for Texas, Dartmouth faced off against a tough UCLA team. In Sevens rugby, when the clock runs out, the ball must either go out bounds or be scored for the game to end.
Dartmouth, the two-time defending champion, was up by five, but UCLA held possession at the end of the contest, and after many passes, the Bruins scored. Then, on a difficult try attempt, UCLA put it through and knocked the defending champions out of the contest.
With the Quakers down by five, Penn captain John Colavita helped the Quakers bounce back, scoring and converting the try to give the Quakers the lead, 14-12. Penn held on for the win, advancing to play Temple, a team against whom Penn had a history.
In the City 6 tournament in late April, Penn took it to Temple, blowing the Owls out to give the Quakers the title of best team in the city.
Penn’s confidence showed through, taking it to Temple, 17-12. With the win, the Quakers finished 17th in the tournament, but were very much happy with the result.
“The wins served as validation,” Foda said. “We won the most games out of the four Philly schools there. We were the only Philly team to beat a non-Philly team. Beating Texas showed what Philly rugby, what Penn rugby, is all about.
The manner in which the two Ivy teams’ weekends ended shows the state of each program.
Dartmouth was devastated with its loss against UCLA, despite still finishing in the Top-8 of the tournament. Meanwhile, Penn was pleased with the weekend’s results.
In the future though, the Quakers will try and reach the Big Green’s level.
“We’re always looking to improve,” Swift said. “Hopefully we’ve done enough to get reinvited to the CRCs next year.”