UVM rugby team climbs to top in the nation

The UVM rugby team is now the No. 1 team in the nation after a pair of wins on Nov. 14 and 15 against defending champions Middlebury College and UMass-Amherst.

The victories secured UVM as the winners of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) D-II 2009 Northeast Men’s Collegiate Championship and as the top-seeded team going into the national playoffs next spring.

“This weekend was really the culmination of everything the team has been working toward since our pre-season camp in late August,” junior captain Jack Bates said. “We knew that if we stuck to our game plan and played smart rugby we could walk away from the weekend with two wins.”

The weather didn’t make things easy for the Catamounts, as the Nov. 15 game against Middlebury was delayed 90 minutes to let excess water drain from the pitch.

“I think it speaks to the character of the players that we were able to come back two days in a row in less-than-favorable conditions and beat two very strong teams,” Bates said.

The team finished with a record of 8-2 and the team’s only  losses came against Middlebury, making the victory against them last weekend even more satisfying.

“Beating UMass to secure a spot in the Florida tournament coming up this spring was definitely a huge accomplishment,” junior James Dailey said. “Beating Middlebury for the championship was definitely the biggest achievement of the season for me.”

“This is my fourth year that I have had to face regular season losses to Middlebury — beating them in the NRU championship game, when it really counts, is indescribable,” Vice President and  senior Charles Powell said.

In order to be ready to contend for a national championship, the team has gone through intense training and faced a tough practice schedule this semester.

“Our players came back early for training camp before school started, and then we have practiced at 7 a.m. for this semester,” head coach Declan Connolly said. “It was a significant time and effort commitment by the whole team and we have prevailed.”

“They were incredibly draining, but the result is undeniable,” Dailey said. “We are now elite competitors at the national level.”

Though the team is riding high right now, the playoffs are still many months away, which could  present some challenges for the team while also giving them time to prepare for what is to come.

“We’re a long way from being the team we need to be,” Dailey said. “One issue we’ll have to deal with is a small roster. We are definitely looking for new players to give us depth.”

Dailey also addressed the difficulty of getting solid practice against other teams before the national playoffs.

“For most of the Northeast, spring season is much more informal and much more geared toward building the next year’s team,” he said.

Connolly has confidence in the team’s ability to address these difficulties and continue improving.

“The results this season have been excellent,” he said. “This team has the skills to be national champions, time will tell.”