Photos: Jackie Finlan
Lindenwood eased into the 2018-19 season, flying from Missouri to California to play reigning DI club national champion Life West on Treasure Island. The trip was worth it, for both teams, and the Lions returned to St. Charles with a 38-24 win.
“Being able to play the defending national champs, it’s more of an honor than anything else,” Lindenwood No. 8 Nika Paogofie-Buyten said. “We knew coming into the match that it was going to be a really rough, tough, physical game. They definitely taught us a lot of lessons and showed us what we need to work on.”
Paogofie-Buyten noted the level of physicality, getting lower into contact, and being confident in making a big hit as lessons learned. Mata Hingano set the standard for Life West’s aggression and defensive go-forward, and Jenn Sever and Jess Lewis were plucky over the ball per usual. Lindenwood had its standard-setters, too.
“One player who always stands out – my girl, Izzy [Manu],” Paogofie-Buyten said of the Southern California prop. “Whenever she gets angry, she gets a little eager, but she’ll never miss bringing the physical-game aspect. Out of the backs, I’m definitely going to pick my girl Veteronnica Tafito. Vet’s from New Zealand. She plays like a forward even though she’s a 12. She’s physical, gets down, gets dirty.”
Life West took the first lead of the game 11 minutes in, after No. 8 Sever quick-tapped through a penalty and skip-passed into space. Trix first-year Elona Williams from UC Irvine took the corner and just got over the line, 5-0.
Lindenwood then responded with the next three tries, and the scoring began shortly after the restart. The Lions turned over possession and some nice interplay in the back line eventually saw inside center Tafito into the try zone. Then, fullback Caring De Freitas did well to revive a flat passing line, inserting from depth and turning a line-break into a 50-meter try.
Sever blocked McKenzie Hawkins’ attempted kick into the try zone, and a high-tackle penalty gave Life West the opportunity to relieve pressure deep in its end. But a quick turnover moved to wing Kodi Barlow, who beat the pursuit for five. Hawkins added two conversions for the 19-5 lead.
As halftime approached, the Lions got into penalty trouble and Life West kept moving forward. That momentum also helped prop Catie Benson across the line, 19-12 with Hali Deters’ conversion.
The home side harnessed that energy while Lindenwood continued to have problems with the offsides line. Sever forced her way through the goal line defense, and Hali Deters added the conversion, 19-all.
Fewer than 10 minutes later, Deters broke away and a fast-moving try started shaping up. But Hawkins, standing still, was perfectly positioned for an intercept and returned it untouched, 24-19.
Hawkins came out later for a shoulder injury, while Paogofie Buyten scored the first of the loose forward’s two tries. Life West again looked like it was getting itself out of trouble but a turnover at mid-field and then fast, wily offloads saw the No. 8 score. Lock Natalie Gray kicked the extras, 31-19.
Life West then answered with its own at-pace, linking attack along the sideline. Center Amy Naber finished the campaign in the corner, 31-24. But Lindenwood put the game out the reach, as an errant pass landed in the Lions’ hands and moved to Paogofie Buyten for the Gray-converted try, 38-24.
“Playing women who are a lot older than you, they teach you a lot of lessons, and we can carry that into our games against other collegiate teams. We find a lot of comfort in it,” Paogofie Buyten said.
There’s also comfort in the fact that the entire team that won the DI Elite national championship has returned. There were a few debuts – freshmen and an Australian newcomer – including that of assistant coaches Karmin Macedo and Megan Pinson, who used to play for Life West.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going back to play the Glendale [Merlins]. They were our only loss last season and we finally get a rematch after a year,” the No. 8 looked ahead. “When they beat us, that lit a fire under us. So this year, it will be interesting, and it will be up to us to keep that fire going. If it dies out, it’s no one’s fault but our own, but I’m 100% sure that we’re going to take this win and drive it into our season.”