Reigning DII college fall champion Winona State began the regional playoffs with some questions to answer. The Black Katts traveled to Columbia, Mo., with less field time than usual, playing three fewer games at this point in the season. Fortunately, team captains Emily Becker and Gabby Calametti drive a squad dense with players who know and execute their roles, and once things start going well, they continue to go well.
“Certainly there were concerns about some areas of our game not being as sharp as we would like, but, I do not think it showed much,” Winona State coach Josh Krzewinski reflected on the DII fall regional playoff weekend. “There were times we lost our defensive shape, but we recovered quickly. Offensively, I feel we are beginning to mesh together very well and at the right time of the season.”
The offense was working well against the Colorado School of Mines, as the Black Katts ran in nine tries, six converted by Emily Becker, in the 57-17 win. Meanwhile, Colorado Mesa University defeated UW Oshkosh 59-22 in the Fall Round of 16. The Mavericks provided more resistance on Sunday, but Winona State won 37-33.
“The final score depicts a close match, but we felt like we controlled the game for the most part,” the coach noted. “We struggled to stop one player [flyhalf Ty Houkamau] on a few breaks but overall won our set pieces, disrupted theirs, and came up strong to stop their forwards’ attack, often counter-rucking them off their ball.”
Winona State is feeling good about last weekend’s performance but there’s still work to be done. Cincinnati is awaiting in the fall semifinals, a repeat of the 2017 final four match-up.
“We know they will be a better team than last year,” Krzewinski looked toward the semifinals. “We just need to do our homework and look at some film, keep our skills sharp at practice, as well as implement some strategies to combat some of the things and players we may see from any of the other three talented teams competing in North Carolina.”
Vassar College and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy will also be in Charlotte, N.C., and competing on the other side of the bracket.
“I’m extremely proud of how the team came together this weekend,” Krzewinski summed up. “It was one of those moments when the hard work of the players begins to show. Everyone stepped up their game and we are starting to feel like we are at a good place mentally and physically coming into the final four.”