Alex Magleby won the 2011 USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship, and perhaps there were a few aside comments – Cal was tired, not Life, no St. Mary’s at the tournament; maybe they were lucky.
Still, the former USA 7s team captain followed that on by coaching the All Americans (15s and 7s) and then the USA 7s team starting in March. He returned to Dartmouth to lead the team to the national D1-AA semifinals in 15s, and now, despite losing four highly-regarded players from last season, won the CRC again.
In the tournament this past weekend, they were even better than last year. They crushed a very good Delaware team 31-5, did the same to Maryland 31-7, shut out Florida, eventual Challenger winners, 28-0. After that it was 35-5 over Wisconsin, a dramatic comeback win over Cal 21-19, when they scored two converted tries in the final four minutes, and a 24-5 defeat of Arizona in the final.
True, Arizona lost two of their best players, Peter Tiberio and Trent Fisher, to injury in that final, but Dartmouth was already up 7-0 when that happened. The Ivy Leaguers from New Hampshire scored, 170 points and gave up only 41, 19 of which were from Cal in one game. Other than that match, they dominated. It wasn’t even close.
They did it, despite having and only one player significantly taller than 5-9, 15s lock and 7s prop Nate Brakeley. The rest of the team was small, sometimes startlingly so. But they had a little speed, plenty of teamwork, and a ton of self-belief. They also had a coach who showed that 7s isn’t just about getting the ball to the fast guy.
“I can’t say enough about the whole team,” said Dartmouth captain Paul Jarvis, looking back at the semifinal comeback against Cal. “The self belief that we have that Mags puts in us; the expectation that we’re never out of it; that someone will make the play and we’ll pick it up; never left us. I couldn’t be prouder of the guys the way they stuck to it. And Mags is the best coach I have ever had.”
Jarvis, for his part, was outstanding. Not a big man, he plays big, and was the central figure in the comeback in the semis. He didn’t make RUGBYMag.com’s All-Tournament team because there are forwards who are bigger and more athletic and faster. But if you were looking for a leader of men, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one.
“It’s a bit of a running joke, a bunch of short angry men,” added Will Lehmann about the team’s side. “But I think it’s really a thinking man’s game, and I think the fact is everyone knows how to use their size to their best advantage. Obviously, Nate, the big lad, he uses that to a big advantage. The rest of us, we know how to make it work I guess. Good team chemistry.”
And the coach makes it happen. A coach who makes it … and this was the theme in player comments … simple.
“He’s a fantastic coach,” said tournament MVP Madison Hughes. “He makes it really easy for the players.”
“Mags always says do the fundamentals right at pace and it will work out,” added Will Mueller. “And that’s what we did.”
It’s interesting to note, also, that Dartmouth did not have a long time to prepare for this tournament. They turned things around in basically two weeks – maybe nine or ten training sessions. Now, they had been working on 7s in the fall and worked on skills throughout the season, but many coaches have said the short turnaround time from 15s to 7s is hard. Well, Alexander Magleby figured it out.
And he figured it out while also dividing his time between Dartmouth and the USA national team, a job he didn’t take until after he discussed it with his players.
“He’s very transparent,” Lehmann said of Magleby. “He sat the seniors down and he told them what the situation was and he’s like. ‘I want to get your inputs. Do you have a problem with this, how can we make this work?’ I think everyone responded really positively. We’d said on the side it’s only a matter of time. We’re blessed to have such a great coach. It’s only a matter of time before he gets called up to higher honors, so I think that just made us more tight-knit.”
Dartmouth didn’t get to play Life, as Life were upended 19-12 in the CRC semis. But they shared some common opponents:
Dartmouth 31 Delaware 5
Life 12 Delaware 5
Dartmouth 21 Cal 19
Life 7 Cal 26
Dartmouth 24 Arizona 5
Life 12 Arizona 19
Dartmouth 35 Wisconsin 5
Life 36 Wisconsin 12
As you can see, in every comparison, Dartmouth recorded a better score, despite having a smaller, less athletic team with less time to prepare. Not to knock the outstanding caching at Life, Cal, Arizona, and elsewhere – not at all – but ask the Dartmouth players and they will give the credit to the guy on the sidelines.