Vassar College won the USA Rugby Division II College Fall Championship, defeating Winona State 50-13 in Sunday’s final. The Brewers took a 17-13 lead into halftime and then ran away from – or more accurately, right into – the Black Katts in the second half, scoring five unanswered tries.
Vassar took the opening kickoff and right away tried a new strategy against the larger Winona State forwards. Instead of the pick-and-go game displayed against Coast Guard the day prior, the Brewers sent the ball a few meters off the ruck to get the defense moving. It didn’t pay immediate dividends and Winona State used two turnovers and an intentional knock-on to line up a penalty kick, slotted by inside center Emily Becker after five minutes, 3-0.
The remainder of the first half saw five lead changes. Vassar reiterated its ability to build tries, gaining consistent meters through hard-charging forwards like Kaitlin Prado, Kate Sworden and Oshana Reich especially. Scrumhalf Jennie To was always there in case there was a lapse in support, and was crucial is sustaining Vassar’s first goal-line campaign when a ballcarrier broke away. Prado eventually dove over, 5-3 to Vassar after seven minutes.
Winona State showed an ability to score quickly, displaying more damaging speed through its backs, notably Abby Andler, Elizabeth Streitz and Julia Pokorny. Fast support from players like Becker and flanker Diana Tapia meant line-breaks turned into points on two occasions, but as the game wore on and Winona played more defense, that discipline slackened.
At the 21-minute mark, a not-straight Vassar lineout put Winona State in good attacking territory and the subsequent scrum moved wide to Streitz for a long break that Tapia finished in the try zone, 8-5 Winona. The teams traded quick scores at the 29th and 31st minutes, as the Vassar forwards did the hard work to the try line and then inside center Molly Lynch hit a hard line into the try zone, 10-8 to Vassar. Right away, Winona moved a solid lineout to Andler, who took the corner on the defense for the try, 13-10 Winona.
As the halftime clock expired, Vassar was determined to enter the break with the lead. The Black Katts put in a voracious defense, as the Brewers started to settle more into its pick-and-go game that had proven so successful. Reich again was so key to keeping the game moving forward and Sworden capitalized with another try, 17-10 to Vassar with flyhalf Aislinn Vences-Dismas’ conversion.
Vassar returned to the pitch with a renewed confidence – and renewed energy. Important substitutes like Megan Martin and Catherine Gladstone made a huge impact off the bench and kept that go-forward at a premium. Winona State started the second half with two sideways-running attacks that ended in touch, also a tribute to Vassar’s defense.
Right after the break, Sworden scored another try and then Vassar was away. The scrum walked in a five-meter set piece for To touch down, and then Prado finished a To break off the scrum and forward picks at the line. Twelve minutes into the second half and Vassar led 36-13 with Vences-Dimas’ conversions.
Vassar didn’t wane in the final quarter, taking advantage of gifts like mishandled passes as well as opportunities earned through counter-rucking to stay on offense. Winona State became understandably fatigued up front, and the Brewers put Sworden and reserve Charlotte Benoit away for converted tries, 50-13 the final and fall title.