For Charles River, Unity and Catharsis in Win
There was no report of last week’s match, though the Lady Rats did play. They played passably. They lost to Worcester. There was no report because, after the weekend, Charles River Rugby, like the rest of beautiful seaside Boston, stood still—silenced by incredulity, confusion and sorrow. For Bostonians, the attacks on the 117th Boston Marathon felt intensely personal. Nearly every Bostonian has ties to this venerable athletic tradition, having run, volunteered, or cheered a friend, family member, or complete stranger. It’s tradition on the Monday Patriot’s Day holiday. For the Boston sporting community, the deliberate injuries to athletes and their fans seemed particularly difficult to stomach, as runners, aspiring runners, and eager supporters suffered devastating leg injuries, or worse. The gentle giant marathon crowd—often a world apart from the enthusiastic gatherings of other sporting events—took the brunt of the blasts. It was cruel. Marathon fans weave an enormous support net. Though the event officially constitutes a race, and still has winners, no Bostonians know the first finishers. Americans have not won the running portion of the Boston Marathon since 1985 (F) and 1983 (M). A Massachusetts resident has not won since the legendary Alberto Salazar took his title in the early 80s. Still, Bostonians cheer. The event has no referee, no opposing team, and no rival fans to heckle. At the marathon, fans cheer for finishes, and they cheer as one. They cheer for success, for charity, for those chasing dreams and those running on behalf of others. Flags of the world flank the finish line, and before Bostonians applaud their own, they hail the Kenyans and the Ethiopians that cross (in recent years long before their fellow countrymen). Amidst this outpouring of camaraderie—devastation.
While the sporting community was wounded, though, the sporting would help heal. At the Boston Bruins game two days later, fans belted the national anthem, taking the lead from Rene Rancourt in a moving roar of solidarity. Profound moments of silence and photo montages debuted at the Garden and Fenway, while supporters left sneakers, signs, flowers, and finisher medals at the bombing sites. After the suspects were killed and apprehended, members of state and local law enforcement and members of the BAA were honored by the Boston Bruins “Shirts Off Our Backs” ceremony, which normally thanks season ticket holders. The Red Sox’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz spoke passionately before a full crowd at Fenway, dropping an expletive that even the FCC could not bear to fine. “This is our f*%$ing city!” he declared during the nationally-televised pregame ceremonies. Visiting professional athletes sported blue and yellow ribbons and “Boston Strong” patches. Even the rival New York Yankees played “Sweet Caroline” at Yankee Stadium, though the Sox were not visiting.
The sporting community has united—as “One Boston”, and even, however temporarily, as one nation. From underneath this shadow, with nearly two-thirds of the club emerging from Greater Boston’s shelter-in-place ordinance only hours before, Charles River Women’s Rugby traveled to Hartford for a cathartic match against the Wild Roses. The Rats had a bit more than usual to start the match, perhaps internalizing the kinetic energy resultant from the week’s emotional rollercoaster. Before the match, veteran Alex Schmidt, one of the club’s founding members, led the Orange and Green in a special pre-game cheer. Prefacing their usual “Up River!” by singing final measures of the national anthem, “…and the home of the brave”, the Lady Rats huddled in solidarity and embraced, grateful that none of their own had been among those catastrophically injured on the 15th.
On the pitch, the match quickly became business as usual. The emotions of competition supplanted those of duress; the joy of athletics displaced the stress of tragedy. The two sides battled back and forth in the first half, each coming to within meters of scoring but neither able to capitalize. River’s forwards were excellent in the match. The Rat Pack scrummed with skill and poise, keeping nearly all of their put-ins and stealing several from Hartford. Anne “Wales” Beaumont and Kara McAuliffe both played tremendous games, leading with aggression and practicing very strong rucking and ball carrying. Flanking the pack, Erin Gillespie and Susan Lackey laid crushing hits on the Roses, consistently pushing rucks and pressuring the Hartford Flyhalf and ball carriers. Jen Garner started at #2, and managed to steal several of Hartford’s put-ins in scrum play. Megan Tenca, who relieved her, maintained the momentum. Ball movement was excellent for Charles River, whose forwards and backs worked seamlessly, perhaps for the first time all season. On the strength of power carries from Lock Jess Packard and timely and skillful offloads of props Jehanne “Juggs” Junguenet and Whitney McCoy, River’s backs were able to spring loose for several sizeable gains. Rookie Jamie Carrillo, inserting comfortably into the Inside Center position, crashed nicely for the Rats. Defensively, River combined to rein in a talented Hartford fullback, collapsing several developing opportunities. In the first half, the Rats held their breath as Hartford elected to kick for points on a penalty inside the 22-meter mark. The kick sailed wide. At the end of the half, River had a penalty opportunity of their own. Electing not to kick, the Orange and Green attempted to drive into the try zone, but were denied by the Roses’ defense.
With the sides deadlocked at halftime, River dug deep. Both camps traded gains and losses, kicks and chases, and several penalty opportunities. The Rat Pack capitalized on nearly every open opportunity, working extremely well with young scrumhalf Geni Beninati. Beninati and commanding veteran Alex Schmidt at Flyhalf built a well-oiled fulcrum between the pack and the backs. In the second half, the Charles River backs shined. The deadlock was finally broken when Flyhalf Alex Schmidt kept the ball after a split play, running through a gap in the defense. As she encountered pressure, she dished to Outside Center Sarah “Bee” Wetherbee, who covered the rest of the ground for the score. Schmidt returned to lace the two-point conversion, and River leapt ahead.
Hartford surged after the River try, making several streaking gains. Fullback Alicia Scahill did an excellent job shutting down her counterpart on the Roses, who was a very strong runner. She countered with runs of her own, including one brief burst that resulted in the second and final try of the contest. Scahill ran in close support of Wing Katy Wilks, who had overmatched her counterpart on Hartford throughout the game. Wilks blew past several defenders, impressively advancing nearly 60 meters before dishing to Scahill to finish it off for the score. River would maintain the 12-0 lead for the duration of the match. Rookie Kate Condon, making her Charles River debut, also made several key advances on the outside. With all players contributing, and all cylinders firing, River maintained the pace of the match for the final fifteen minutes.
When the referee’s final whistle sounded, the Lady Rats cheered an emotional victory, achieved through the cohesion of all sixteen active players united under the colors of Boston’s Charles River. Enjoying their respite from the chaos of the week, the ladies celebrated a successful match with the Hartford Roses. Charles River captains Junguenet and Maegan Hoover, sidelined with an injury this week, honored scrumhalf Geni Beninati and Wing Katy Wilks for their exceptional play during the match. The Roses awarded Sarah “Bee” Wetherbee with their Visitors’ Player of the Game award.
Charles River would like to thank the Hartford Wild Roses for hosting them for a wonderful match this week. “It’s only a game”, posits the familiar phrase, but this particular game provided a welcome outlet, and an opportunity to unite. The legacy of Charles River Women’s Rugby in Boston is one of cohesion, of sorority in sport. With this spirit, the club extends deep sympathies to the families of those lost or injured during the Boston Marathon, and expresses solidarity with those members of the Boston sporting community who were, and continue to be, affected by the events. The Lady Rats look forward to seeing survivors recover, triumph and return to run again. We are One Boston; and we are Boston Strong.