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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Ruggers Claim First Ever New England Championship

Author: Doug Haber Staff Writer

This past weekend, the Middlebury Rugby Club surpassed everyone's expectations but their own. Middlebury's rivalry with Yale began three years ago when Yale defeated Middlebury for the first time in the New England championships. The bad blood continued last year when Yale delivered Middlebury its only two defeats of the season and their captain stated in The Yale Daily News, "They [Middlebury] didn't break down mentally, they broke down physically. They didn't want to be on the field with us. You could see it in their eyes."

Since pre-season camp, the keyword for motivation has been Yale. However, this weekend, the Midd Ruggers finally annihilated the team that had haunted them since that first New England loss. Middlebury defeated Yale 24-0 in the New England finals this past weekend in New Haven, Conn., and secured the top seed for the Northeastern Championships and home field advantage for the first round this coming weekend.

The march to the New England finals began on Saturday, when Middlebury faced the returning Northeastern Champions, Providence College. However, the Panthers were not intimidated in the least and scored within the first few minutes as Nicholas Dutton-Swain '02 rumbled through the Providence defense from five meters out to score his first of three tries on the day.

The Midd Ruggers did not look back from there. The forwards' superior rucking and the backs' impressive ball handling led to a team flow that Providence could not stop. Tries were scored by backs Captain Ave Withers '02 (3 tries), Ngetha Waithaka '04, Kevin Immonje '02, Epeli Rokotuivekau '04 and Doug Haber '04. Despite the individual scores it was truly a team effort, and Providence was unhappy to meet Middlebury's best performance of the season. The final score was Middlebury 60 Providence 0. The Panthers marched into the New England finals against Yale, who defeated Bowdoin College earlier in the day and were confident and rested.

There is no doubt that the Yale game was hotly contested. Following a ridiculous offside call, the Panthers were forced to play a man down for 10 minutes. The Midd Ruggers put on the defensive, however. Superb tackling on the Middlebury side led to a stalemate on their goal line.

Finally, the team was able to gain its momentum and punched in four tries. Although it was the finest day in Middlebury Rugby history, Jody Kramer's '03 surgically repaired shoulder was reinjured in the waning minutes of the game. Kramer's amazing skills and leadership ability has made him an integral component of the Middlebury machine, and his loss will surely be missed. Ulises Zanello '03 will step in at scrumhalf. His first appearance for the season came at the end of the Yale game, however, Zanello's performance in this past Saturday's convincing win over Geneseo State in the Northeastern Quarterfinals is an indication that the Midd Ruggers will not be stopped this coming weekend.

The Panthers will compete in the Northeastern semi-finals on Saturday against a tough Yale Rugby Club at UMass-Amherst. Middlebury defeated Geneseo State 65-5 in the Northeastern Quarterfinals and hopes to bring the momentum from their undefeated season to UMass.