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Women’s rugby repeat as NIRA Champs

December 2, 2022

Courtesy of Justin Lafleur
TACKLE TAKE DOWN: Bowdoin tackles a University of New England player to recover the ball. The women’s rugby team defeated the University of New England on November 19 to win the NIRA DIII Championship.

On November 19, inboxes pinged across campus as Senior Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann invited students to celebrate the women’s rugby team’s return to campus after its championship victory. For the third consecutive year, Bowdoin women’s rugby won the National Intercollegiate Rugby League (NIRA) Division III Championship In Hanover, N.H.. The team defeated the University of New England (UNE) 29–0 in a hard-fought game to clinch the trophy.

The Polar Bears knew that the outcome of the game would rely heavily on an effective defense. UNE has a team composed of mostly seniors, compared to Bowdoin’s relatively young team.

“We knew that whether or not we played a strong defense would determine the result of the game. The whole week prior, we were working on a really strong launch, coming up all together, supporting each other and calling our hits,” wing Lulu Linkas ’26 said.

This defensive strategy became very important during the first half of the match. Kyra Bishop ’26, Len Dodge ’24 and captain Jorja Markella ’24 led the team in tackles. Following several defensive stops, Lauryn Eisenhart ’24 scored Bowdoin’s first try and put Bowdoin up 7–0 at halftime.

Saniya Ridley ’25 opened the scoring in the second half. The Polar Bears gained momentum and scored 15 more points to cement the 29–0 win. Ridley was named the MVP of the match for her efforts.

After winning the championship for the past two years, the team felt pressure to win again this year. However, for Markella, overcoming this stress made the win that much sweeter.

“[Winning] felt amazing last year, as well, but this year, I was just so proud of everyone because everyone was under so much pressure, and we really pulled through and we even shut UNE out,” Markella said.

Last year, Bowdoin graduated nine seniors from its championship roster, which meant that younger players had a larger role this season. Bishop played a key offensive role, and first-years Linkas and Katie Stomma made important defensive plays.

This young talent makes Head Coach MaryBeth Mathews hopeful for the program’s future.

“Rugby is very much like a chess match. It’s very tactical,” Mathews said. “Even though this team is young, they’re at the level where they can see that and understand what their teammates are seeing and thinking. They’re playing together, and the synchronicity of that is coming. It’s very pretty to watch.”

Markella attributes much of the team’s success to its tight-knit team dynamic.

“I love spending every single moment with my teammates because I feel like we have such a great bond,” Markella said. “Because when we play as a team, we play phenomenally.”

The Polar Bears dominated the NIRA DIII rugby league with a season record of 8–1. The team also faced off against competitive programs like DI University of Connecticut, who they defeated 35–10, and DII Vassar College, who delivered Bowdoin’s only loss of the year.

“There is talk of Bowdoin playing in a higher division rather than playing just a few DI and DII games as we have done the past several seasons,” Mathews said. “Coaches support that, but that conversation will happen at a higher level over this winter.”

While the team is thrilled with its third championship, it is more proud of the grit and teamwork it showed throughout the season.

“Every single person literally left it all out on the pitch. I don’t think that anyone had any more to give when the clock ran out, and for that, I’m just so thankful for my teammates,” Markella said. “I’m so honored to be able to be a part of this team.”


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