All for one: Rugby’s emphasis on team is paying off

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

Five years, 26 games and a pandemic separate the Quinnipiac rugby team from its last winning season. 

That 2017 season saw the Bobcats go 10-2 en route to their third straight national championship. In the four seasons since, they’ve won 11 games total. The 2022 iteration of the team is looking to turn the tide. 

Led by 17 upperclassmen, Quinnipiac’s roster has the veteran presence to maintain composure when it’s put on the ropes, something it’s struggled with in the past. 

“Historically when you look at when the opposition has scored, no matter what the margin is, you see our body language tends to wane a little bit,” head coach Becky Carlson said following the team’s home opener on Saturday. “Today when Brown scored back and answered back, we really didn’t have any of that.”

While they might not show up on the stat sheet, these intangibles can make or break a team, which is why they’ve become a focal point for the Bobcats.

“You really want a team to be able to bounce back and have the correct conversations,” Carlson said. “In rugby, there’s not really any stoppage after you score. They have a couple – maybe 30-45 seconds to gather and really get some key messages, and they’ve been working on what those key messages are.”

A lot of those messages focus on teamwork and togetherness, concepts that are vital in a sport like rugby. The team gained a greater sense of this in late August when it made the trip north for a preseason bout with St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia. 

“I think for them to be able to travel internationally as a team to compete and see some high level Canadian rugby was fantastic,” Carlson said. “That played more into our connectivity than anything else … I really think it energized them.” 

That energy showed when the Bobcats took to the field to begin their 2022 campaign this past weekend against Brown, as eight different players combined for nine tries to earn a lopsided 32-point victory over the Bears. 

Senior front row Addison Walker breaks through defenders in a Sept. 3 game against Brown. (Cameron Levasseur)

“Honestly, our preseason this year was amazing,” sophomore utility back Fódhla Ní Bhraonáin said. “We had so much energy every practice, and if we didn’t we made sure we brought it, and that helped a lot.”

Some of that practice intensity can be attributed to the squad’s newcomers, who according to Carlson have kept their feet on the gas day in and day out. 

“There’s a tenacity about them and a will to want to compete,” Carlson said. “They came to preseason and it wasn’t this ‘hey let’s all be connected and best friends’, it was like ‘hey, let’s all be connected and competitive and push each other. And that’s what we’ve been lacking a little bit of.”

The Bobcats brought eight freshmen into the program this year, including center/wing Cassidy Dugdale. The San Diego native scored two tries against Brown in her collegiate debut.

Among Quinnipiac’s veteran returners are senior forward Gracie Cartwright and junior fullback Kat Storey. Both were All-NIRA honorable mentions in 2021 while Storey led the team with nine tries on the year. 

Ní Bhraonáin is another player to keep your eye on. She had the Bobcats only successful conversion attempt in Saturday’s matchup and should continue to be impactful as the team tries to implement a more kick-heavy game plan this season. 

“She was phenomenal today,” Carlson said. “She put a foot on it, her placements were absolutely fantastic.”

The game plan Quinnipiac is utilizing values field position over possession, which showed in its regular season opener, as Brown rarely had the ball in the Bobcats defensive half. 

With a game in the books, things are looking up for the Bobcats as they trudge on through the fall. Of course, you can’t put too much faith in a single performance, but this Quinnipiac team has faith in itself, which says a lot about the program’s chances to compete for a fourth national title come November.