Summit rugby alums lead reigning college champion Harvard University in season opener
Cassidy Bargell, PK Vincze aim for 2nd-straight Harvard national title
When the Harvard University women’s rugby team defeated Mount Saint Mary’s 53-5 on Friday night, Crimson senior leader Cassidy Bargell played a live rugby game in front of a crowd for the first time since Nov. 17, 2019 — a span of 656 days.
On that day 22 months ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bargell — a 2018 Summit High School graduate — and the Crimson defeated Army West Point for the first varsity national championship in Harvard women’s rugby history.
At the time, the then-sophomore Bargell had five more rugby seasons at Harvard ahead of her, as the program plays the 15s variety of the sport each fall and the sevens game each spring. But when the Ivy 7s Championships was canceled in April 2020 at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, it started 1 1/2 years off campus for Bargell.
She attended class and engaged with the Crimson team remotely from March 2020 through July 2021, when she returned to Cambridge for the first time to spend time on campus with friends. Then last month, the team finally reconvened in person to start the journey to defend its reign as 2019 women’s college rugby national champions. And nearly half the women hadn’t played for the Crimson before.
“I’m just focusing on making sure everyone feels welcomed and connected,” said Bargell, who enters the 2021 season as one of the top college players in the nation.
Bargell said the team undertook a traditional two weeks of preseason training camp starting Aug. 17. While the team gelled on the field, Bargell, 2020 Summit High graduate PK Vincze and their teammates were reminded of the time-management challenge that is being a student-athlete at a world-class academic and athletic institution.
Being back on campus was much different than last spring, when student-athletes like Bargell could take online courses while training with the U.S. national program in Glendale and Chula Vista, California.
“You definitely forget just how much time it takes to walk places on campus,” Bargell said. “And all of the small interactions you have, all the little bits that make it feel like real college. I think just coming back, I was so excited to be in person for classes again. I was personally looking forward to the small interactions with peers around the dining hall, walking to class — you can’t replicate at all the spontaneity of it.”
Though many other athletes across the country are spending an extra year in school thanks to COVID-19 rules that permit a super senior year, Bargell said this will be her final year at school because the Ivy League’s rules have less wiggle room for an added year. So she’ll get her final fall season of 15s followed by a final spring season of sevens. This fall, Bargell will lead the Crimson from the crucial scrumhalf position, a spot where she scored two tries Friday night in the dominant win over Mount Saint Mary’s University at Mignone Field with fans in attendance.
“It was incredible,” Bargell said. “We just went out there being thankful for the opportunity. We spent so long without it, and there was a great crowd turnout. The energy was amazing, to be playing with each other, for each other.”
With six more games on the docket until the National Interscholastic Rugby Association semifinals and championship in mid-November, Bargell said the team is focusing on improving on the day to day as “nothing feels guaranteed. Bargell said the regular season’s climax is slated to be the rivalry match Oct. 23 at Dartmouth College, a tilt that will be livestreamed on ESPN+ at 9 a.m.
“We don’t know what the season will pan out to be,” Bargell said. “But we know we have to train hard to be better next week than the week before.”
Vincze, a first-year freshman, said Bargell has led the way bringing new players into the Harvard rugby culture.
Bargell said her old Summit Tigers teammate and friend Vincze — who delayed enrolling at Harvard from 2020 to 2021 amid the pandemic — was at the core of an effort Friday night when new players seamlessly fit in with veterans. Bargell said the team will look to iron out its tackling and physicality in coming games but added that elite-level speed was present in the season opener. And Vincze was a first-year who stepped up to start after a Crimson veteran went down to injury. Vincze played every minute in the game as she proved her mettle from the flyhalf and center positions creating plays for her teammates.
“The mindset shift, I’m liking it a lot,” Vincze said. “I’m learning new ways to play rugby, different styles of play that are interesting to me. And I’m excited for that.”
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