After all, these teams have produced national team players, presidents, and more than a few world movers and shakers... but the conference's standard can be inconsistent. It makes sense for the Ivy League teams to play together. Most are close to each other (Cornell aside), and most play at about the same level. So the players learning something and are competitive.
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Then there's Dartmouth. Thanks to some very generous alumni and a solid tradition on campus, the Big Green have managed to recruit strong rugby athletes and dominate the Ivy League for the past several years. Even with the upheaval of this summer, with head coach Gavin Hickie moving to Navy and assistant James Willocks, having left in the winter for Penn State, coming back as Dartmouth's head guy in August, the Big Green will be very strong when the season gets underway in two weeks.
Why is that? Much of that is how Dartmouth has been able to identify key players who can get in and help the program. It doesn't hurt to have enviable facilities, but it's also thanks to the team's relationship with other sports on campus. Every year, the Big Green get a lacrosse player or a football player who wants to cross over. Combine that with some solid coaching, and, as a result, a large pool of players who like being part of a winning program, and you've got most of the pieces of the puzzle.
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Everyone else is trying to get there. Among them, perhaps the one that made the biggest step forward last year is Harvard. The Crimson got their rugby facility opened and a big chunk of money behind the team. That's a start. Harvard showed fairly well, going 5-2 and only losing to Dartmouth 20-0.
That's the result Crimson head coach Mike Diamantopoulos hangs his hat on from last season.
"Holding Dartmouth to 20 points was a big deal," said Diamantopoulos, whose team also beat Brown last year. "We defended them in the first half, but our guys are learning to play defense for a whole 80 minutes. And part of that is being able to hold onto the ball, as well. When we get our systems right and we have the ability to hold the ball for an extended period of time, we don't have to play defense all the time. You can't expect to play defense for as long a time as we did against Dartmouth and not expect to be scored on."
Harvard has identified that game as a matchup in which it can do better. Dartmouth plays wide superbly well and move the ball quickly. The conference favorites also have the core fitness within their forwards to win ruck ball with a small number of players. That gives them options, and what other Ivy League teams want to do is cut down those options.
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But, realistically, most are trying to cut down the margin of defeat against the Big Green. Princeton has already forfeited (apparently due to difficulties in scheduling), but it's hard to imagine last season's 60-plus point wins over Penn, Columbia, Yale, and Cornell will change all that much.
For the likes of Brown (which should certainly contend near the top) and Harvard, much of this is about having the right attitude. Dartmouth is the Big Green... but maybe if teams start thinking of them as just the Green, or maybe the Fallible Green, then the leaders might be toppled.
|Ivy League Fall 2017 Schedule|
|Nov. 11||Ivy League Championship|
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