Amherst opened the season with a non-league victory over the Coast Guard Academy. A week later, the rugby team began its rout of the conference with a 32-8 win over Yale University. The men then proceeded to defeat Norwich University 29-20 and crushed the University of New Hampshire 49-0. On Oct. 8, they pulled out a spectacular come-from-behind victory over Harvard University, which clinched the league title. Amherst cleaned up on Saturday by beating Brown University 36-5, sealing a 6-0 season.
“We’re by far the smallest Div. I school in the country and still beat schools 10-15 times bigger than Amherst,” said outside center Jon Vosper ’06. “It’s quite remarkable,”
Despite the fact that the chances of finding excellent rugby players at Amherst is much smaller than at larger schools, Amherst has managed to consistently boast a strong program.
“This has by far been our most successful season in at least a decade,” said president and fullback Tim Visser’06. “We have firmly established ourselves as one of the top clubs in the region, and perhaps the nation.”
This excellence can be attributed to the ability of the players on Amherst’s squad, including all of the starting 15 players. “We have always relied heavily on the outstanding skill of a few, but this season has been characterized by tremendous talent across the field,” Visser said.
A few standouts for the Jeffs include flankers Molibi Maphanyane ’06 and co-captain Brandon Zangel ’07. Maphanyane and Zangel were selected as Northeast Rugby Union all-stars and competed in the Collegiate All-American Tournament June 10-11 in Boulder, Colo. Eight man Alex Tapscott ’08 played for the Ontario U-20 team that won the Canadian All-Star Championship this summer.
“We have eight starting seniors with lots of experience,” said Vosper. “These eight seniors provide experience and leadership, while three of our very best players-Zangel, Tapscott and co-captain fly-half Dale du Preez ’07-are all underclassmen.”
But the Jeffs have not used talent alone to claw their way to the top of the Green League. “More importantly, we have become a tremendously tightly-knit team on and off the field,” said Visser. “We play for each other and know that every person on the field has the skill and desire to fight for his teammate.”
“Rugby, much more than many other sports, is all about teamwork,” added du Preez. “Irrespective of the talent on the field, the result will depend on the performance and cooperation of those on the field. That is where our results have come from this season: our teamwork.”
Because rugby isn’t a major sport in the U.S., the team has a more international flavor than most squads. “We have players from South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, England, Canada and all over the States (even a student from Hampshire College). Our coach is from Scotland and the women’s coach, who helps out with us, is from Trinidad,” said Vosper. “This diversity makes things interesting and fun.”
Another asset in the Jeffs’ favor is their dedicated coach. “Edd Dockerty, our unpaid coach, has single-handedly turned us from a ramshackle, inexperienced group into-without exaggeration-one of the best teams in the Northeast,” Vosper said. “He taught us the game and how to take it seriously. Everyday he has something new to show us, and we wouldn’t be nearly as good as we are without him. He joined us in 2003, when the seniors were freshmen, so he has watched us grow as a team and knows us almost as well as we know each other.”
The Jeffs look to use their strength in teamwork to win their first playoff game and earn a bid to the North East Tournament on Saturday. “We’re playing Northeastern this Saturday at home. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. but we’re going to try to move it back as far as possible to get more Homecoming stragglers to our match,” said Vosper. Regardless of the outcome of the postseason, Amherst has much to be proud of.
“After many hours of practice in the blistering sun and pouring rain, all of our hard work and devotion has finally paid off,” said match secretary and flanker Matthew Noumoff ’06. “Our record is a testament to ourselves and to the league that one does not need to attend an enormous military academy or Ivy League school in order to succeed at rugby. Without a doubt, perseverance and relentless spirits are at the core of our successful program.”