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Fun and Games in Barcelona

Vassar’s rugby teams spent Spring Break in Barcelona for what Coach Tony Brown describes as equal parts team bonding and “just plain fun.” The women’s squad, coming off a No. 2 national ranking in the fall season, won two of its three matches, while the men lost both of theirs. But Brown and the players pronounced the 10-day visit to the Spanish coastal city a resounding success.

It was the teams’ 15th such overseas trip in the last 35 years. “These trips are more about bonding as a team than about getting ready for our spring schedule,” Brown says. “There’s not a lot of time to tweak our techniques, but we’re able to hone a few things and experience a rugby culture.”

Women’s Co-Captain Nathalie Freeman ’17 says the trip wasn’t about wins and losses. “Our goal was to play together against some good international competition, so we weren’t upset about that one loss,” Freeman says. That loss was a 41-0 drubbing to a team that included three members of the Spanish national team and one member of the German national team.

Co-captain Mariah Ghant ’17 says she enjoyed the renewed camaraderie with her teammates after the winter layoff. “It’s beneficial to the team to be together for an extended period,” Ghant says. “You really get to know everyone, and it makes it easier to trust each other on the field for the rest of the season.”

While the time she spent with her team on the pitch was valuable, Ghant says one of her favorite experiences was spending a few hours by herself in the Museo Picasso (Picasso Museum). “It was interesting to learn about Picasso’s life in Barcelona,” she says. “I’m doing my senior thesis on poetry, including the poetry of artists, and I may use some of Picasso’s.”

Men’s Co-Captain George Sheppard ’18 says he was pleased with the play of the team’s newcomers, despite the outcome of the matches. “Some of our players had never faced this type of competition -- they were thrown into the deep end of the pool quite suddenly -- and to see them step up and play well in their very first game was encouraging,” Sheppard says. “Spending those 10 days together gave us something to build on going into the spring season.”

Since the players all pay their own way, finding an affordable tour is always the primary goal, and the teams’ accommodations were far from plush. “There were 10 of us in a room, in bunk beds, at our hostel,” says Freeman, “and there was no soap in the showers.”

Team members spent their free time sampling Barcelona’s restaurants, shops and other attractions. Co-Captain Mary-Margaret McElduff ’17 says she and her teammates especially enjoyed exploring the municipal gardens and colorful mosaics in Park Guel, one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

The trip culminated with a pair of matches against men’s and women’s squads in the town of Manresa, about an hour’s drive north of Barcelona. Following the matches, the teams toured an 800-year-old Gothic church, Basilica La Seu.

Freeman says the two teams enjoyed spending time with each other, something they can’t often do back at Vassar because of conflicting schedules. “Exploring Park Guel and other parts of Barcelona was a memorable experience, and the trip was definitely a bonding experience for our team,” she says. “I remember being in the locker room after our one loss, and everyone was laughing and having a good time.”