November 20, 2011
The Women’s Rugby team at Johnson State College secured the national Division IV championship on Sunday, Nov. 20, besting previously undefeated Albright College of Pennsylvania 12-5. Center Nora Wynter, a junior at JSC from Tinmouth, Vt., won Most Valuable Player honors.
The win is impressive on many levels, not the least of which is that this was the team’s first year of competition and that only six of the 18 team members had ever even played the sport.
Calling it “a storybook season,” Coach Don Allen credited the players for working harder and playing better together than any team he’s ever coached, men’s or women’s. Allen coached men’s and women’s rugby at JSC from 2000 to 2005 and returned this year to coach the women’s team.
“You can’t start any lower and get any higher,” he said, noting that he showed up at the first practice to find three women “throwing a ball around.” He agreed to coach the team if they could get at least 10 others to show up at each practice. They did that and more.
As Allen puts it, “They were a unique group of ladies who took the game seriously and wanted to win, even to the point of practicing at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. at least two times a week. They were the epitome of what a team should be.”
Allen singled out MVP winner Wynter for special praise, saying she was an “excellent rugby runner” who latched on to the game from the start. “At first it was all about Nora - she was all we had in offense and attack - but that didn’t last long,” he said. “The players quickly became the best team, and the best group of individuals, I’ve ever coached.”
JSC won a berth at the nationals in Cherry Hill, N.J., after securing the New England Rugby Football Union (NERFU) title Nov. 12, winning two hard-fought games against Springfield College (26-10) and Saint Anselm College (17-12). Saint Anselm was the only school to have a win against JSC during the regular season.
Heading into the nationals, team captain Alyson Finn, a junior from Montgomery, N.Y., felt confident of the win. “You’d think a small school like JSC wouldn’t have a chance against the bigger schools, especially since we’re just a club sport - but we do. We always go at it as hard as we can and with the attitude that we’re going to win,” she said.
Junior Satu Lord sees the win in New Jersey as a vindication of the ruggers’ collective respect for either other, their oppponents and the game. “To be honest, I wasn’t so sure we’d win playoffs,” said Lord. “But finals - I knew we’d win, especially with the other team’s being so disrespectful to us. I knew that we showed the respect that our opponents deserved and therefore showed that we earned this champoinship. A little bit of karma and hard work went a long way.”
The current incarnation of the Women’s Rugby Club at JSC started three years ago. This was the team’s first year of competitive play.
Team members are: Molly Banks, JSC Rugby Team co-captain (a junior from Acton, MA); Coral Bolio (sophomore, St. Albans, VT); Taylor Brown (freshman, Manchester, VT); Rugby Club president Ashley Carrington (junior, Middlefield, MA); Tiana Cross (freshman, White River Jct., VT); Rugy Team co-captain Aly Finn (junior, Montgomery, NY); Mikala Frenette (junior, Braintree, VT); Miranda Giles (sophomore, Jaffrey, NH); Trina Guaraldi (freshman, Springfield, VT); Miranda Ingram (junior, Suffield, CT); Jules Jacovini (senior, Morrisville, VT); Belinda LaFountain (freshman, Cornwall, VT); Paige Libby (freshman, Whitefield, NH); Satu Lord (junior, Essex, VT); Amara MacKillop (sophomore, Charlotte, VT); Jessica Mott (senior, Swanton, VT); Muzzy Wronski, Rugby Club vice president (sophomore, Barre, MA); and MVP winner Nora Wynter (junior, Tinmouth, VT).
Student Garan Wilson contributed to this article.