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Charlotte to Rep South at Nationals

  • 02 May 2016
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Charlotte after the DII South championship match. /// Photo courtesy Charlotte Rugby Club

 

The first team has qualified for the DII club national quarterfinals. Charlotte defeated Fort Miami 49-0 and Nashville 43-7 for the South seed to the national Round of 8, the eastern portion of which will be held May 21-22 in Pittsburgh.

 

Charlotte was one of two Carolinas teams that competed at last weekend’s South championship in Montgomery, Ala., and advanced to the regional final four after a 31-24 win over Atlanta in the league crossovers.

 

“Atlanta was probably the best team we’ve seen all year, and we knew they were going to be tough,” Charlotte coach Brad Richard said. “They’re fast, so we worked on speed to the breakdown, decision-making and eliminating turnovers at the breakdown. It was close. They scored two late tries and pushed us to the very end. That game prepped us optimally for the weekend in Montgomery.”

 

Charlotte was grateful for the tough competition and refocused energies on Fort Miami for the South semifinals. The team found some footage online and took note of some hard-charging forwards and a style that contrasted with Charlotte’s wide-open game.

 

“We emphasized the importance of our defensive structure, maintaining our defensive line and making our one-up tackles,” Richard said. “They bunched a lot, so we stayed true to our style and got them chasing the ball.”

 

Liz Pagan led with two tries, while Liz Ravaioli, Shenoriah Quarles, Michel’Le Bennett, Raelyn Jehlik, Amanda Watkins and Crystal Sain scored a try apiece. Flyhalf Madeline Clark added nine points off the boot.

 

Meanwhile, Nashville defeated Augusta 17-5 in the other South semifinal to advance to Sunday’s title match.

 

“We had planned on seeing Augusta in the South final and had been talking about our strategy for the past couple of months. We were shocked to hear that Nashville won,” Richard confessed. “We’ve never played them, so there were no preconceived notions. We did find some video online and ID’ed one or two strong suits, but we didn’t change anything on our end. Just reminded ourselves of our game plan and how it would compare with Nashville.”

 

Charlotte noted some more big forward ballcarriers, a good back line that liked to pass and loop, and the ever-dangerous Pat Neder at scrumhalf.

 

“We knew we had to stay true to our defensive style and shut them down as a group, instead of getting into those one-on-one match-ups that Nashville preferred,” Richard said. “We modified our emphasis around the rucks. Their scrumhalf [Pat Neder] liked to exploit the space around the ruck with quick picks, so the first thing we did was set two markers on either side. I don’t think she ran the ball around the edge once.”

 

Nashville was able to get around the corner, however – something that hadn’t happened to Charlotte all season. The first 10-15 minutes were close as the sides tested each other, and fullback Watkins came up with some big corner-flagging tackles that cleaned up the Stonelions’ scoring attempts and boosted morale. Nashville tested Charlotte’s tackling ability up through the middle as well, but the Carolinas side moved the ball away from contact as quickly as possible to spread the field.

 

“We were caught on our heels the first 15 minutes because they ran us really hard, and we weren’t expecting it,” Richard said. “But then a moment of brilliance produced a try, and that lifted everyone.

 

“We spend so much time on our psychological skills and really hone in on adaptability,” the coach added. “We didn’t know what they were bringing until the game started, and we put the onus on the players to adapt to the situation and find a way to be successful no matter what happened.”

 

The players talked each other through the hard parts of the game and got good leadership out of captains No. 8 Crystal Sain, scrumhalf Nicole Benjamin and fullback Watkins. Charlotte wrestled control of the match, and it began to show on the scoreboard as Becca Fischer scored two tries and Benjamin, Ravaioli, Sara Davis, Brieanna Carlson and Hanna Kirlin also dotted down. Clark tacked on four conversions for the 43-7 win.

 

In the third place match, Augusta defeated Fort Miami 26-20.

 

The Charlotte Rugby Club is making a big trip to Pittsburgh, host of the eastern portion of the national quarterfinals for both the men’s and women’s club competitions, for which both sides qualified. The women will face off against a Northeast, Mid-Atlantic or Midwest opponent, which will be determined after the respective regions’ championships this weekend.

 

 

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