The USA Rugby College 7s National Championships are fielding three divisions for the women—Elite, D1 and D2—but Babson College out of Wellesley, MA. wasn’t necessarily considering that opportunity when it kicked off its second-ever sevens season.
But by the time the New England Wide conference named its champion, it was Babson with medals around their neck and tickets to Tucson.
“We certainly didn’t expect the national title bid,” said Babson coach David Meyer, who is in his fourth year alongside co-coach Nicole Bure. “We viewed this spring as an opportunity to really grow the roster and gain that 7s experience for all the freshmen. Midway through the season, we weren’t expecting to do that well."
But this is sevens, added Bure, and the conference tournament show that "at any given weekend tournament, if things fall your way, you could walk away with the title.”
But it wasn’t just luck. The program has been steadily building the last few years, growing from six-player practices, to which seniors and emotional leaders Jessica Jean-Bapiste and Allison Fernandez can attest, to its largest recruitment class last year.
Meyer pointed to sophomore Matilda Kocaj, an all-conference selection in both the New England Collegiate 7s Circuit (NEC7C) and NEWCRC, for leading the recruitment drive and being a great ambassador for the sport. During the 15s season, the numbers and enthusiasm produced a successful debut in NEWCRC’s Tier 2 competition.
Babson College had joined the NEC7C in its first year in 2018 and returned for spring 2019. Kate Tank and Chiara de Brabant led a young squad, but a bevy of fixtures allowed the team to face a wide range of teams, develop its game and build confidence.
“They want to be a great rugby team and know we’re not there yet but we’re hanging with some of the best teams locally in NSCRO and DII,” Meyer said. “The mistakes that we were making were experience based; players don’t know what they can and can’t do fully.”
Under The Radar
New England Wide was awarded an automatic berth to the DII national tournament, and Tier 1 teams like the Coast Guard Academy and Hartford were favored for the title. Babson lost its opening pool game to Coast Guard 15-10, but a 29-5 win over MIT afforded a semifinal berth. There, Babson faced Hartford and legged out an overtime win, setting up a rematch against Coast Guard in the final.
“There were some nerves but we were definitely excited about the final and relished the opportunity to play,” Meyer said. “This was the third tournament in a row where we reached the final, and we had yet to win, so we were driven. In the previous game against Hartford, we fought hard for that last-second win and we kept that momentum into the final.
“The final played out better than expected,” the coach continued. “Where we lucked out—they’re not a 7s program and usually don’t have a spring season. They didn’t play any leadup tournaments, which is a challenge. The fact that we were playing 7s all season helped us.”
The teams scored a try apiece in the first half and then Babson started to pull away with longer scores in the second half for the win and berth to nationals. A season that started out with goals of development and growth had added an opportunity to play for a national title.
“We know we have a young team but we have a good core that can compete for years,” Meyer said. “We need to keep building our roster with strong recruitment classes, and making nationals has already raised our profile on campus. They’re already talking about the fall season and winning Tier 2 in NEWCRC.”