In the first quarter of Sunday’s 27-5 victory over the University of New England (UNE) (2-6) at Mignone Field at Harvard University in Allston, Mass., the women’s rugby team did exactly what it needed to do to clinch its first Division III National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) championship game: go down by a try after the first possession.
“[UNE] scored on their first possession. Not a coach’s favorite moment,” said Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews. “We just weren’t prepared for them to attack. We were poorly aligned and didn’t make our tackles, and they just took advantage on the wing. So, being down five-nothing right off the bat gave [us] something to recover from.”
And recover they did. After that first possession, Bowdoin dominated the rest of the game, finishing the season with a NIRA Division III national championship—the fourth ever for the league and the first ever for the team.
“[UNE’s try] made us realize we had to pick it up and turn our game on, which we did,” said captain Claire Carges ’20. “That was a pivotal moment, a turning point in us realizing what we had to do to turn our game around.”
A quick Polar Bear try right after the opening score allowed Bowdoin to reset. For the rest of the game, MVP Safiya Osei ’21 broke countless tackles and scored two tries, while Ashlynn Autrey ’22 led the Polar Bears’ defense with 12 tackles. Bowdoin proceeded to put up 27 unanswered points.
Assistant Coach James Read emphasized the composed atmosphere at the match.
“The last minute of the game, you wouldn’t think that we were about to win because the [players] were so professional,” said Read. “Sometimes you see people jumping up and down, getting really close to the line, getting ready to run onto the field. There was none of that. Everybody was very calm—we still had a job to do. As soon as the ball went out, that’s when we knew we could celebrate.”
Carges described the joy when the final whistle went off.
“Everyone was ecstatic and we all ran, hugged and were cheering,” Carges said. “Then, our fans also came onto the pitch, which was really nice because it was in Boston, so there were a lot of players’ families and alumni who were able to come to support us. It was overall a great feeling and a positive end to this season.”