Photos: Paul W. Harvey IV (see full album)
The college game of the week was found in the North division of the DI Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference (PMRC). Western Washington drove the six hours south to Eugene, Ore., for a physical season-opener against the University of Oregon. Several lead changes occurred, but the Vikings remained resilient, adapted, and secured the 37-31 win.
“Spirits are high. It was a good way to kick off the league season. But we can’t get complacent or feel entitled to other wins,” WWU co-president JoAnna O’Neill said.
“It’s the first of five [league] games. We’re focused on U-dub,” fellow co-president Rose Bryers looked toward Washington this weekend.
Western Washington was voted into the DI Pacific Mountain North last year, having outgrown the competition in the DII Cascade conference (read more). The Vikings proved to be a worthy addition to the league, getting a pair of wins and challenging the Big 12 schools.
“We’ve set a good precedent. We’re a smaller school and don’t have a big student body,” O’Neill said. “We thought it’d be a disadvantage but we went into the DI league and came out successfully. That was our introduction and now we know what’s going on.”
“To be frank, we want to win [the league], and it feels like an achievable goal,” Bryers added.
Western Washington graduated a slew of seniors last year and this year’s squad is young. Fall friendlies got the energetic newcomers solid field time, and the co-presidents praised the young players for meeting the standard that’s been set. They also heaped thanks on head coach Mike Mauger and staff for readying the team for success.
On Saturday, Oregon hit the pitch with season-opening vigor and held the lead for much of the first half. Elizabeth Dominguez and Chandleur Alexander (2) scored tries for the Ducks, while Jennifer Magana kicked two conversions.
Crucially, and consistently throughout the match, Western Washington responded well to points against. Georgianna Black, forwards captain Carinna Ostrovsky-Snider and Jaclyn Stapleton scored tries, and then right before the halftime whistle, backs captain Megan Stark dotted down for the go-ahead points. A conversion from Eva Copley gave the Vikings a 22-19 lead into the break.
“To be honest, when we were out there, it was so close we had no idea who was winning,” O’Neill said. “Our mentality we strive for throughout any game is to play like the score is 0-0. You don’t want to slack off if you’re up, but you also don’t want to stress out because you’re behind. The score didn’t impact how we played.”
That mentality became important as Oregon attacked inside Western Washington’s 22 meter and drew a yellow card advantage. The Ducks sent Harriet Dilly in for the try and 24-22 lead. Unfazed, the Vikings went back to work, spreading the field and building off of those opportunities. Wing Nina Scruton scored, followed by Stark minutes later. In the final 10 minutes, Scruton dotted down a second, 37-24.
“Oregon plays a forward-heavy, attacking the A-gap type of game. That’s not our usual style,” O’Neill said. “We played a lot of defense, but we knew they couldn’t sustain that level of energy output. They got tired, we stayed resilient.”
The co-presidents pointed to first-year Scruton, flyhalf Copley and No. 8 Stapleton for putting in leading performances on defense.
Magana had the final say with a try and conversion in the waning minutes, 37-31 the final, and both teams banked at least one bonus point in the decision. The win marked the Vikings’ first against Oregon.
In other PMRC North news, last year’s top-two finishers, Washington State beat Oregon State, played out a 24-10 decision in favor of the Cougars. Boise State forfeited its game to Washington for lack of numbers.