Upstate New York does a good job of adjusting its competitions so teams are playing meaningful games. There are four options for women’s colleges – two NSCRO pools and two DII/NSCRO hybrid pools. Each hybrid pool includes four DII teams and two NSCRO teams, which then follow separate post-seasons.
Cortland is one of those teams that has oscillated between competitions, but the 2-0 squad is now firmly planted in DII and chasing that fall championship. Leading the way is first-year coach Teresa Ricci, a former player with five years’ experience on the pitch.
“It’s been interesting,” Ricci said. “It’s tough because I’ve never coached before, but I’ve played before so some parts are easier than I expected. Plus, we have lots of experienced players and it helps when they demonstrate and give their two cents, versus me just explaining everything.”
Captains Alyssa Picillo and Ashley Simoes are especially important, and they’re well supported by fellow veterans Julia Guercio and Bailey Workman. Some of them have stepped into new positions but still prioritize the education of the newer players – and there are plenty. For a second year, many of the 30-plus players are new to rugby, and that extra boost came from Cortland’s successes that last two years. In fall 2017, the team won its Fall Round of 32 game against Tri-State runner-up Albany before falling to eventual Coast Guard (which finished third overall) in the Fall Round of 16.
The first game of the 2018 season against Ithaca College was a bit of an experiment, as rookies took the pitch after two weeks of practice, and positional holes were filled by new faces.
“It wasn’t the sharpest game, but we came out strong, had good support and played together as a team,” Ricci said of the 49-10 win. “It was hectic at first, but the players just came in and took over their positions as their own.”
In week two, Cortland’s opponent, Syracuse, established the first-half tempo and led by double digits at times.
“Syracuse capitalized on everything we were doing wrong,” Ricci said. “I want to say they were leading by 20 points in the first half, and then we scored one or two tries before halftime.
“Basically, we all agreed that it’s tough to play defense [for a whole game] and that’s not how we win,” the coach rehashed the halftime chat. “So we played with more support, communicated better, and just molded together. We got back to our pattern and how we usually play instead of playing to their level.”
Cortland rallied to a 58-29 win.
Two weeks into the season, Ricci describes a team that is more balanced than years past.
“Usually, we have a heavier pack, but this year we have a solid pack AND a solid back line,” said Ricci, who played second row last year. “We have the big girls who can break through tackles and fast girls who can slide down the field and go untouched. We’re lucky because we have a lot of great athletes.”
Keep an eye on prop Kailey Gleeson, outside center Claire Brandon and wing Carolyn Jones, all of whom have impressed Ricci and tabbed themselves as talent to watch.
It’s five-straight weeks of league games for Cortland, which now faces SUNY Binghamton before taking on Colgate (Sept. 29) and Rochester (Oct. 6). The latter two opponents are from NSCRO, but Rochester is also 2-0 in the DII Hybrid East. In the DII Hybrid West, Buffalo State and Fredonia are both 2-0. Last year, Cortland and Buffalo State enjoyed a tense rivalry: read more.
“We’re ready. We’re very optimistic about winning and excited to go far,” Ricci referenced goals to win the DII fall championship. “We have a lot of experience and good rugby players, and we know it.”
For more information on the Upstate New York conference, click here.