Women’s Rugby Vies for the Title
Alicia Menard-Livingston once saw her high school rugby team play a game, but she didn’t really understand what she was watching. Amanda Saich’s dad played the game long before she was born, but he never explained the rules to her. Claire Fondrie-Teitler ’18 had never heard of rugby before she came to Vassar. Over the past three-and-a-half years, the three seniors have learned quite a bit about the sport. They are the captains of a team that will try to become the first in the college’s 155-year history to win a national championship.
On Saturday, Vassar faces the United States Coast Guard Academy in the semifinals of the USA Rugby Division II National Fall Championships on the campus of Furman University in Greenville, SC. If the Brewers win, they’ll play for the national title on Sunday against the winner of the other semifinal match between the University of Cincinnati and Winona (MN) State University.
Playing in the national championship tournament is nothing new; this will be Vassar’s third straight trip to the Final 4 and its fourth in the last five years. Last year, the Brewers split a pair of games and finished the season ranked second in the country. Menard-Livingston, Saich, and Fondrie-Teitler say the team plans to do better this year. “Since the start of the season, we’ve talked about being the best we can be, as a team and individually, each time we play,” says Saich, a Science, Technology and Society major from Winchester, MA. “But underneath, there’s also that feeling that yes, we want to be number one in the country this year.”
“Ten years from now, I know I probably won’t be looking back on a particular class that I took, but I do know I’ll remember nationals.” — Claire Fondrie-Teitler ’18
Fondrie-Teitler, an economics major from New York City, wrestled competitively in high school and says she was drawn to rugby “because it seemed a little like wrestling, with cleats and a ball.” She says she fell in love with the sport, and with the camaraderie of the team, as soon as she joined in her first year. “It’s more than a sports team; it’s a community,” she says. “It starts with the coaches, and there’s a network of rugby alums. Some have already reached out to us, and some will be at the games this weekend, cheering for us. It’s the Vassar Rugby culture that’s essential to our success.”
Menard-Livingston, a sociology and psychology double major from Essex Junction, VT, was on her high school soccer, tennis, and track teams in high school. She decided to take a break from athletics when she came to Vassar, but by her sophomore year she missed the competition, so she joined the rugby team on a friend’s recommendation. She’s enjoyed the entire experience but says this year has been something special. “This is the closest squad I’ve ever been a part of,” she says. “We can criticize each other when we need to.”
Saich agrees. “In the past, we’ve had some superstars that we relied on,” she says. “This year, it’s all of us playing together, and not just the 15 starters. Everyone on the team contributes. It takes more than 15 to practice; it takes another 15 to practice against, and they make us better and we make them better.”
Head Coach Tony Brown says he agrees with his captains that this team is unique. “This year there seems to be a mentality of a group effort, that the whole is greater than the sum of our parts,” he says. “The fact that Vassar has earned a place in the final four of a competition that includes more than 110 colleges and universities is an achievement worthy of recognition. These young women take great pride in representing the school, and I’m proud to be their coach.”
Regardless of the outcome this weekend, Fondrie-Teitler says she and her teammates will cherish the experience of being part of Vassar Rugby long after they graduate. “Ten years from now, I know I probably won’t be looking back on a particular class that I took,” she says. “But I do know I’ll remember nationals.”