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HBS Women's Rugby: From Engine 69 Firehouse to Walnut Walk to Hogfest Championship

Looking to start a successful women’s rugby campaign, the HBS Women’s Touch Rugby team travelled to Philadelphia last weekend to play in Wharton’s annual “Hogfest” Tournament. The competition probably didn’t expect much from us, but even with our eclectic assortment of “uniforms” and just a handful of practices (with only 4 to 5 people at a time), we showed the competition that HBS women are a force to be reckoned with! To the surprise and dismay of the reigning champions, the Wharton Wildebeests, we stole the tournament from under their nose, with a 3-1 win in the Championship Final.

The journey to victory started Friday afternoon as we boarded the Harvard Rugby team bus, with 35 of Harvard’s best men and a bus driver named Lloyd. The guys set the tone early with a video replay of a classic Australia vs. New Zealand match. The girls would have preferred “Sex and the City” re-runs, but we were on a rugby trip, and outnumbered 35 to 7. Six hours later, we arrived in beautiful Philly, ready for a weekend of rugby (but without the painful tackling)!

Our first match was against the combined Columbia-Wharton “B” team, a game intended to give us an easy introduction to the game with everyone supposedly at the same experience level. However, we came not just to play, but to win! Overcoming butterflies in our stomachs, we started strong, playing a tough defensive game to prevent the opposition from gaining yards on us. The game often broke down, as we sought rule clarifications and bickered with the ref about “offside” rulings. We found this to be an excellent tactic to confuse the other team and gain an upper hand in re-setting our position. This “clever strategy” resulted in a 2-0 win for the HBS Women and a look of stunned disbelief from the opposition. Rosy Fynn (ND) scored a run-away try and Donna Spencer (NE Partner) used her quick thinking to convert an opposition fumble into another try.

Full of confidence after our first victory, we set off in search of food and drink to replenish our energy. We never found the convenience store that our Wharton hosts had directed us to, but we did come across a man tending to the lawn of Philadelphia’s Engine 69 Firehouse. The kind fire fighter took pity on our plight, and invited us to fuel up with chips and sodas from their snack supply closet. On the way out, we even got to slide down the Firehouse’s pole!

Next up, was Wharton “A”, undefeated Hogfest champions. We knew this would be a much tougher match than our first. After all, six of their seven players returned from last year’s team. We started the game full of energy, and even scored the first try, thanks to some fancy footwork by Rosy Fynn, our secret weapon and a New York Rugby veteran. But some sneaky “31” and “33” play calls by the Wildebeests brought us back to reality.

After the 2-1 loss to Wharton “A”, we held a team huddle to strategize for the next match against Columbia “A”. If Wharton could come up with plays, so could we! A win against the Columbia team was crucial for us in order to secure a spot in the Championship game. It was an intense match, full of hard touches, with girls hitting the grass, and angry words exchanged. But it was just a game, and we can’t help the laws of physics! Momentum made it difficult for us to lightly touch the other team In the end, we demolished Columbia, with a 2-0 final score. Nikki Brewer (NB Partner) and Rosy Fynn each scored a try.

Smelly (well, the men were smelly) and exhausted, the Harvard men’s and women’s teams got on the bus for the ride back to our hotel. The women were serenaded with lovely songs by the men, who also had enjoyed a victorious day. Some of the tunes were so catchy that Rabia Saeed (NG) kept singing the “panda, panda bear” song for the remainder of the weekend. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to hear rugby songs, we can only suggest you befriend members of the men’s team and hope that you, too, can be as lucky as we were.

Saturday evening we dressed up for Wharton’s annual “Walnut Walk” tradition, which entails dressing for success on the top, and desire on the bottom. We got strange looks in the hotel lobby, but our bus driver didn’t bat an eye. Lloyd even drove us 7 blocks to our first destination of the evening, where we were supposed to have dinner with the other rugby teams. For a moment, we thought we’d been set up (not too many Wharton people had dressed the part), but we quickly found safety in numbers. Top marks go to Katie Sumpton (OE) and Donna Spencer for actually sporting boxer shorts (the rest of the women’s team opted for pajama pants).

Sunday morning, we felt tired and sore, but Lloyd whisked us off to our Championship game in style. Having defeated us the day before, Wharton had no idea how much the Harvard women had improved in a mere 20 hours. They were shocked as Nikki Brewer made another one of her brilliant intercepts and scored the first try. Despite shutting Wharton out in the first half, we were determined not to get complacent – our competitors were a very strong team. Identifying some of our offensive weaknesses, we made adjustments to our playing strategy at halftime and took to the field with great confidence. Rabia Saaed, Kate Ferguson (OE Partner), and Marisa Goldenberg (OE) held the center line with their intimidating defensive charges, while Stella Ye (ND) and Katie Sumpton covered the wings with amazing speed and agility. Using our new offensive strategy (which looked remarkably like the Wharton one), Rosy Fynn broke through Wharton’s impressive defensive line and scored our second try. Up 2-0, the trophy was within our reach.

Wharton then found a hole in our defensive line, and scored their first try; however, it only served to make us more determined to capture the victory. When Nikki Brewer made yet another intercept and scored our third try, we knew we had clinched the title. When the final whistle blew, we erupted in screams of delight and basked in the glory of our 3-1 victory. The Harvard men cheered for us on the sidelines – we were Hogfest 2005 Champions!

What a fantastic weekend! We owe a huge thank you to Wharton for hosting a great tournament, and to the HBS men’s team for supporting our fledgling women’s touch team. We can always use more players (it’s a bit tiring with only one substitute) – it’s not too late to join. All HBS student and partner women are welcome, and no experience is necessary! Shoot us an email if you’re interested.

World MBA Championships at Duke, here we come!

October 11, 2005
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