For the first time since 2005, Princeton women have beaten Brown, and the win couldn’t have come at a better time. With the 22-17 victory, the Tigers became the Ivy League champions and received the automatic bid to the DI college Round of 16 in Pittsburgh. Brown will also likely attend as an at-large bid; however, that confirmation will be announced by USA Rugby today.
The Ivy semifinals began on Saturday, and the eventual finalists dictated the pace of play during their day-one wins: Princeton defeated Radcliffe 49-5, and Brown beat Dartmouth 47-10. (Dartmouth went on to beat Radcliffe 20-12 for third place).
“Everything came together for us,” Princeton coach Emil Signes said. “We didn’t know much about what Harvard had, and it wasn’t as if we were beating up on a poor team; we just played very well.”
Much of that success rested on the forwards’ shoulders. For the last decade, Princeton has been known for their backs’ prowess, so Signes was pleasantly surprised with the amount of ball the Princeton forwards won and the continual pressure they exerted on Radcliffe. At the center of it all was loosehead prop and forwards captain Olivia Garard. Signes tipped his hat to the pack leader, who also received a big boost from No. 8 Dot Mittow and points-leader/lock Lelabari Giwa-guri.
Princeton also did an excellent job of spreading the scoring around the pitch. Eight players, including Giwa-guir (2), Mittow, Devan Kreisberg, Elizabeth Sajewski, Kristy Giandomenico, Morgan Arthur, Steph Kim and Lauren Rhode, scored tries, while Rhode and Cat Lambert each added a conversion.
The team was looking good and feeling good heading into the final against Brown, but the it was the host that lit up the scoreboard first. Forty-one seconds into the match, center Elisha Miles broke a tackle and streaked into the try zone. Brown took a 7-0 lead on Erica Florenz’s conversion.
The Princeton forwards sprung to action and regained momentum.
“Brown has more outside speed than we do right now, but our scrummaging was great, and we pushed them off several balls,” Signes said. “Nothing was missing in the backs, but when the forwards are moving forward, the backs don’t see as much ball. The forwards were able to do the job, and they won the game for us.”
By halftime, Princeton was up 17-7 thanks to tries from Mittow, Giwa-guri and Kelsey Henderson. Rhode added the conversion. Brown matched Princeton’s effort in the second half, and it only took the third quarter before the home side tied it up with two tries of their own, 17-all.
The go-ahead try resulted from another forward drive to the tryline, and flyhalf Rhode finished it off for the try, 22-17. With approximately seven minutes remaining, all Princeton had to do was hold on, and when the final scrum occurred, Princeton kicked to touch for their first Ivy championship since 2005.
“Everyone on this team, they only knew about losing to Brown,” Signes said of snapping the record. “This game was also special because we thought – maybe incorrectly – that we were going to get the bid to host Ivies. Some of the kids took some turf from our home field and brought it to Providence, thinking, ‘We are playing at home.’ So this win was doubling pleasing.”
Princeton takes the conference’s automatic bid to Pittsburgh, but won’t know until today their opponent in the Round of 16. Last year, the Tigers faced eventual DI champion Penn State in the first round of playoffs.
“I’m not worried about our [collective] experience at nationals,” Signes looked ahead. “Even though we don’t have 30 first-team players – like Penn State, for example – we’re not afraid of anyone.”
Signes is very confident in his starting 15 and small set of reserves, although he admitted that the team’s a little thin on depth. They’ve been pushing themselves, and during the team’s spring break in California, were able to run their defense against OMBAC’s big, strong, athletic athletes. The team will rely on their core of nine seniors – and are happy to have co-captain/fullback Morgan Arthur back in the lineup – as they prepare for nationals on April 13-14.