The race has narrowed down to Albany and Boston in terms of the top DI women’s club in the Northeast. The undefeated teams will play each other in two weekends in a game that will essentially award first place in the region. Throughout the season, however, Boston has proven to be consistently stronger and has beaten shared opponents by bigger margins.
Boston has been posting some intimidating numbers, and the team’s point differential is nearly double that of Albany. The team is fit, fast and complete, and some of that flattering profile can be attributed to Boston’s new coach: 23-year-old Dimitri Efthimiou. The former USA 7s Eagle joined Boston after sustaining a knee injury during the World Club 7s in London. A friend of Boston fullback Danielle Miano, he signed on for the fall and spring seasons while he recovers.
The first thing Efthimiou did when he met the team? He changed everything.
“I stepped into a team that has a lot of chemistry,” Efthimiou said. “Everybody – A side, B side – hangs out 24/7, so that was one of the positives. As for negatives, they played a style that I thought was outdated, like props going from ruck to ruck; flankers just running around the field wherever they wanted. So I changed it to a style that I learned in Australia. I created a structure and divided everything into pods, so there’s a system and pattern they follow on offense and defense. So no one’s just running around carelessly.”
This style of play isn’t for every team. It works best for smaller, fitter, faster teams, so Efthimiou instituted non-mandatory fitness and skill sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays to level the playing field. The coach was getting a modest turnout initially, but then the wins started piling up.
“They weren’t particularly happy at first,” Efthimiou reminisced fondly. “They’re not getting paid to be here, and they have lives and jobs outside of rugby. Usually there are eight or nine at the sessions, but it’s not like I’m going to be mad if they’re not there.
“It’s funny … now that we’re getting the results, there are suddenly more who aren’t so busy at work anymore, and they do come out," Efthimiou said. "And now I have props who are passing five to seven meters, where four weeks ago, they couldn’t even catch the ball. I push them, and sometimes I might get a little negative, but they’ve come a long way and have worked for the results.”
Some familiar names continue to achieve above the team average, like Emily Malkin, Miranda Wakimoto and Miano, who double as Boston Belles and are the most exciting, dangerous offensive threats on the field. Efthimiou also recognized flanker Sarah Appleton, a 26-year-old who played DI ice hockey at Boston University but became more serious about rugby after graduation.
“She’s not the most skilled of them all, but she probably makes 30-35 tackles per game,” Efthimiou said. “She doesn’t miss any of them, is in every single breakdown, and is always putting her hand up. She’s not the most knowledgeable, but in terms of overall ability, she stands out.”
Efthimiou also pointed out Julie Athanasiadis, whom he thinks should move up to the next level of play. She was flanking when the new coach arrived, but the two discussed propping, and she’s now the starting loosehead. She moves around the field like a flanker – has great hands and is a good rucker – and has displayed her potential for growth as she quickly picks up the game.
Boston is good, better than they've been for the last few years, but they're still very much in development. In their 69-19 win over the Village Lions last weekend, Boston controlled most areas of the game. But there were a lot of dropped balls, some room to run out wide, missed tackles that really shouldn't have happened considering how much time the team spent on offense. It's fortunate for Boston that playoffs are in the spring, as the team will be a much more serious contender with a few more months of Efthimiou's regimen of "new school" training.