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Women’s rugby to defend NIRA Championship title versus UNE

November 18, 2022

Courtesy of Brian Beard
LEAVE IT ALL ON THE PITCH: Rebecca Vakarau ’25 fends off Castleton University defenders. The women’s rugby team defeated Castleton 56–8 and will compete in the NIRA Championship final against the University of New England tomorrow.

Continuing its domination of the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) Division III (DIII), the women’s rugby team (7–1) defeated Castleton University (5–4) by a score of 56–8 during the first round of the championship tournament last Saturday. Tomorrow, the team will play the University of New England (5–2; UNE) for the title for the third straight season. The Polar Bears have won the past two years and are looking forward to the opportunity to defend their title.

Despite their repeated match-ups, Bowdoin does not view UNE as a rival.

“I feel like rugby is a sport where, when you’re on the field, it’s a very progressive, violent sport … but when you get off the field, every single time, everyone’s just really nice,” wing Lulu Linkas ’26 said.

Bowdoin enters the match as the favorite, but the players and coaches know UNE is a tough competitor and have been preparing for the game both on and off the pitch.

“We’re really focusing on our preparation, both in and outside of the actual tactical, focusing on hydration, eating well, taking care of ourselves to make sure that we’re in the best shape possible to be able to play this game,” fullback Lauryn Eisenhart ’24 said.

Although the team has been to the conference championship before, this year, the majority of the team is made up of first years and sophomores—a few of whom had never played rugby prior to coming to Bowdoin. Linkas is one of the players who is new to the sport.

“I think what we’re going to do is go out there and put everything on the field, and hopefully if we do that, when we walk away, we will be happy with how we performed no matter what the result is on the scoreboard,” Linkas said.

Many of the more experienced players believe the team is working together more than in years past.

“I’m really proud of the way that the underclassmen have stepped up, but I’m also really proud of how the upperclassmen have made such an effort to be so inclusive,” Eisenhart said. “I think that’s really helped us mesh together as a team. There’s no real class divide. Everybody is equal and everybody’s considered equally for positions and playing time, which I think is really important.”

Eisenhart also attributes the program’s repeated championship appearances to Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews, who has been at Bowdoin since 1994. Under Mathews, Bowdoin has continuously been one of the most competitive programs in the NIRA.

“[Mathews] has been here for a very long time building this program from the ground up and working so hard to both increase our salience here but also by recruiting,” Eisenhart said.

Mathews is equally proud of the work the players put in week after week.

“They take their weekly goals seriously and work on incremental growth for teamwork and camaraderie, and their voice on the field has been wonderful. They support each other on and off the field. They just show up to play good rugby,” Mathews said.

Assistant Coach James Reid added that he is just as impressed by the players’ character off the pitch.

“They are humble in victory, which is always good to see,” Reid said.

Though the team lost to Vassar College earlier this season and snapped a 17-match long winning streak that dated back to October 2019, the Polar Bears are still just as confident heading into their third championship match.

“There was this idea that we would go unbeaten this season, which we haven’t. In the face of all of that, everyone has just kept their head held high and has worked through it,” captain Jorja Markella ’24 said. “I’ve seen so much growth from so many individual players and the team as a whole. It’s great to have such amazing chemistry even though we are all very young. I’m so proud of everyone for that.”

As the championship match approaches, the team  has  been  using this week to fine tune its  plays, teamwork and skill.

“We’re going to leave it all out on the pitch,” Markella said.

Bowdoin will take on UNE tomorrow at Dartmouth College.


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