The women’s college community is eager to see how the newly formed American College Rugby Association (ACRA) will play out this season. There are some unanswered questions as to which conferences are participating and how the post-season will unfold, but there are some regions that have promoted their involvement clearly.
While the majority of ACRA conferences accommodate DII teams, the Northeast Women College Rugby Conference (NWCRC) has assembled an excellent DI competition. A field of 12 teams, featuring former national champions and scholarship-offering schools, has come together for one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
Below is a run-down of the participants and where we think they’ll fall come league season’s end. But we’re going to follow this competition closely throughout the next few months, as there's a good chance that NWCRC will produce the first-ever DI ACRA champion.
League A (6): American International College, Boston University, University of New Hampshire, Norwich University, University of Rhode Island, University of Vermont
League B (6): Army, Boston College, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern, Quinnipiac
Teams play everyone within their league once and two crossover matches from the other league. The crossover matches are played within bands, or tiers, so traditionally stronger teams, e.g. Army and Norwich, will face each other and the same with developing teams.
The Cadets finished second in the nation last year, on the backs of a very special team. The graduation of key players like flyhalf Emily Baugus might shake lesser programs, but the last few years have proven one thing: Norwich doesn’t rebuild; they reload.
Norwich returns All Americans Joya Clark, Rose Bernheim and Baylee Annis, and will look to players like sophomore Ally Day, the breakout player at last year’s national championship, Vanessa Champagne and Emily Oor to lead the younger crop of athletes funneling through the ranks.
#2 – Army
Bill LeClerc is one of best coaches out there and he will no doubt have a fit, physical Army side ready to play again this year. The West Pointers will greatly miss Shannon Gianessi, Samantha Starta and Annie Lee, but players like prop Betsy McCracken (whom we last saw with the Combined Services 7s team at the club 7s championship) epitomize the tough-nosed, disciplined game that the Cadets bring every year.
The Norwich vs. Army game (Sept. 21) is the game to watch this year. The last time these teams met was during the quarterfinals at the DI national championship, a 29-23 game that went Norwich's way.
#3 – Quinnipiac
Behind the efforts of head coach Becky Carlson, the Bobcats have made impressive strides up the competitive ladder. The team finished third in DII last year but is probably most well known for the stiff-arming All American Natalie Kosko. The sophomore has been joined by a quality class of recruits, including USA Junior All American Maggie Myles and Divine Savior Holy Angels captain Lindey Wise.
The Bobcats lent a sneak peak into their potential last weekend, as the Connecticut side traveled to Eastern Illinois University (Carlson’s alma mater) for a 65-7 victory.
#4 – AIC
Like Quinnipiac, AIC also offers rugby scholarships, which has allowed head coach (and Eagle) Mel Denham to import two of the best incoming freshmen in the country: Megan Pinson and Cassidy Myers. The two join fellow West Coaster Jess Davis, who appeared in a USA jersey against France this summer, along with a slew of great talent from New York, Florida and California.
With a solid schedule in place, as well as the addition of Beantown captain Evan Hoese onto the coaching staff, the Yellow Jackets will shake up the top band of DI.
#5 – Boston University
BU has been a good team for a number of years, but they’ve always seem to hit a wall come playoff time. That wall has usually been in the form of Norwich or Radcliffe, who’ve both gone on to win national championships. A good fluid team, playing some good rugby, they’re only a few players short of being a national competitor. Look for them to shine in 7s rugby this spring.
#6 – Rhode Island
First-year head coach Karie “Truck” Orendorff will face a rebuilding year, but URI is poised to be the best of the second-tier teams in the conference. URI gave Norwich their toughest conference match last fall and came in second in the conference. The women at URI enjoy the game and they play for pride.
#7 – Boston College
Legendary coach Ken Daly has seen many ups and downs with his program. This year BC will face the toughest competition to date and will need to step up if they want to be competitive. Just a couple of years ago, BC was vying for a national 7s championship (against Norwich), and they could get there again. The Eagles will have to do it without All American Lily White, who graduated last spring and quickly made her way onto the NOVA 7s starting line.
#8 – Northeastern
Head coach Keith Cattanach joins the Lady Maddogs and takes on an always athletic side. The Northeastern men’s side has come a long way in a short time and the women have the potential to do this as well. Look for Northeastern to potentially break ahead of the second-tier teams in the conference and compete strongly in 7s as well.
#9 – UMASS
A once formidable UMASS program has had a run of tough times in recent years, but like a number of schools in the conference, they are only a few players short of getting to the next level.
#10 – Vermont
Always a strong forward pack, Vermont will need to find some speed to compete with the athletes playing in the conference.
#11 – UCONN
UCONN has struggled for a couple years after graduating U-20 superstar Alycia Washington. They’ve got a tough road ahead this year, but could certainly find successful recruits hiding in the competitive high school leagues in New England. It’s a big school with a great athletic tradition and it won’t be long before they figure out how to get rugby moving forward as well.
#12 – New Hampshire
At present, UNH does not have a coach. They were 2nd best in NERFU just five years ago and coaching inconsistency has hurt. Should they find a coach, you might see this group of athletic players rise, but they have a long way to go to get there.
The entire league schedule is a work in progress, but this document will be updated as fixtures/results are made known and scheduling conflicts resolved.
(f) = Friendly