MVP Ordway followed by Byrge
Davenport entered the first-ever DII National College 7s Championship as favorite, and for good reason. The Panthers won the DII national 15s title in early May and had established itself as one of the best 7s teams – DI or DII – in the Midwest. Behind the guidance of former USA 7s Eagle and Davenport head coach Greg Teliczan, Davenport became the 2015 DII ACRA 7s champion, and this spring won a national 7s qualifier over reputable DI teams.
“I was worried,” Teliczan contradicted the expectation of confidence. “You already have a trophy in one hand, and you need to turn around and go for another one. It was in the back of everyone’s mind – you don’t practice to finish second; you practice to win. But during the lead-up, the way we were playing, I was concerned.”
Davenport had been playing and practicing full tilt since late summer 2015, with a two-week break to split up the seasons, so some burnout is understandable. But the team had also suffered some new injuries and that affected training. When it came time to name the travel roster, four of the replacements were tight five players, and Teliczan was concerned that the team would struggle to play its brand of wide-open, contact-averse 7s.
Since there were only nine teams in the three-day DII competition, the teams played one game apiece on Friday and Saturday. The knockouts were held Sunday. Friday saw Davenport defeat Springfield College 31-5, and familiar faces Ashlee Byrge and MVP Danielle Ordway, both of whom are age-grade pool players, led the way. They scored tries as did wing Madison Sparks and prop Brenna Donahue.
“She’s often the unsung hero,” Teliczan said of Donahue, who later scored a long breakaway try after dummying the opposition. “No one talks about her, but she played lights-out this weekend. She is a phenomenal athlete.”
Saturday saw Davenport qualify for the Cup semifinals after a 26-12 win over Utah State (tries from Donahue, Bryge, Ordway and Hunter Moreland, another age-grade pool player). But coach Teliczan was still critical of the team’s performance.
“Typically we like to spread the field and move the ball away from contact, but Saturday had me worried,” the coach said. “We were slow. We weren’t setting up steep and we were getting caught in tackle situations in both games. Some of our outside players, instead of taking it wide were going back into the defense. It wasn’t like us.”
That’s when the extra down time came in handy. Teliczan sorted things out, corralled the team with a white board and restructured the Panthers’ game.
“This is not, at all, what you are capable of,” the coach recounted the team meeting. “We broke things down and they showed up much better on Sunday, in both games.”
Byrge scored two tries against Ithaca College in the semifinals, and Sparks’ second try of the tournament helped Davenport to a 19-0 win. Hannah Tennant kicked the conversions. That set up a final against Bloomsburg, which had defeated Ithaca College 12-10, UT San Antonio 36-5 and Rutgers 26-5 for the berth.
Davenport and Bloomsburg are separated by 600 miles, but the teams are well acquainted with each other. They last saw each other in the ACRA 15s semifinals and played each other twice during the 2015 ACRA 7s championship, including the final game.
“We knew what we were getting into, but they looked much better,” Teliczan said. “They have a couple of players who are real threats, but they’re an all-around solid team. They tried to attack us in the middle a lot, but we structure our defense around no one beating us through the middle.”
Bloomsburg’s most dangerous player is Nikki Snyder and she played to her potential with two tries in the final. Synder played sweeper on defense, and so Teliczan instructed his craftier ballcarriers to attack that sixth player and have support follow for a 2-on-1 on the sweeper.
Davenport took a 19-0 halftime lead, as Ordway took the corner for the game-opener. Byrge followed with a line-break and then bounced out of a double tackle between Snyder and Selena Fernandez. Footwork put Ordway past her opposite for her second try, and Tennant’s conversions cushioned the lead.
Bloomsburg answered well in the second half, but a fourth try from Makala Ferguson sealed the win and title, 24-14.
“It will take some time for them to come down from the clouds,” Teliczan said of his team’s dual-title-winning spring. “But I’d be challenged to say that anyone was happier than me after that final whistle. I’ve coached and played in many championships and never won one. They’ve won two, and each of them is huge to me.”
Davenport is the second women’s college team to win both a national 15s and 7s title in the same season. Penn State accomplished the feat in 2015.
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