Chico State after Saturday’s win.
It’s been a season of monumental wins across all divisions, and Chico State’s 36-17 victory over Stanford (2-2) might be the biggest one yet. The win sees Chico State move into third in the Pacific Mountain West standings, but more importantly, the victory has instilled some much-needed confidence that the team can compete with its league mates.
“We’re finally putting in the performance that we’re capable of,” said Chico State co-coach Alex Triantafyllou. “Being at home against Stanford helps. When we lost to them earlier in the season, we both felt that we let the game get away from us, in discipline and not really playing to the plan.
“I’m not sure if they weren’t quite sure of the game plan, but they weren’t 100% confident in executing it,” co-coach Mary Triantafyllou added. “Yesterday, they trusted themselves more and tried the things we’ve been working on, and were successful.”
In particular, the kicking game worked. The team embraced the kick-and-chase as an attacking strategy and challenged the Stanford back three.
“We had more of a natural center at flyhalf this year,” Alex said of Shanan McFall. “Her first reaction is not to kick, it’s more to crash like a center should. Getting her to think more like a 10 and less like a 12 has been a big part of incorporating our kicking game.”
That shift in mindset occurred at the right time.
“I heard that Stanford moved someone else into the fullback position, and to me, that signified that we should check her out and see what’s she’s got,” Mary said. “We have some good speed in our backline, and that was a factor [in the kicking game’s success].”
Sophomore inside center Darby McFall scored one of her three tries off of a kick-and-chase. Outside center Stefani Bergerhouse scored twice. The sophomore center pairing is an emblem of athleticism and rugby smarts. Rookie wing Kayla Vasquez scored the sixth try, and Shanan Darby added three conversions.
The forwards matched up well, but the flow of the game was stymied by the regulation of the set pieces. It was difficult for both packs to establish a rhythm.
“It probably favored us to some extent just because of Stanford’s play,” Alex said. “It’s quick, so slowing it down helped us a little.”
The Chico defense did a good job of slowing down Stanford’s offense as well. The hosts tightened up some areas around the breakdown.
“One of the issues we had last match was defending the pick-and-jam,” Alex explained. “They were beating us at the shoulders game, and we weren’t defending the gates well. They gained 10-15-meter chunks from the pick-and-jams. We worked on that the last couple of weeks, got better, and they weren’t able to get the front-foot ball this match like they did last time.”
Freshman flanker Mo Ayala stood out on the day. The former wrestler has been playing for three months but “has a nose for the ball,” according to coach Alex. She isn’t a vocal leader; she is a leader by example, and tackled feverishly all day.
Both coaches couldn’t remember the last time Chico beat Stanford, so everyone was understandably thrilled with the victory.
“Last year we struggled,” Alex said. “We came away with one win, and going into this season, we had that mentality that we’re not good enough. We weren’t backing ourselves and were playing down to expectations. This is a turning point. They have the confidence that they were struggling with last season into this season. This win will hopefully get them up and now we can compete.”
UC Davis (4-0), which defeated Cal 83-5 Saturday, leads the conference, and Chico (1-3) leapfrogs Cal (1-3) into third place. Next weekend is a rematch of Chico State vs. Cal. The first round went to the Golden Bears 27-22, but Chico’s hoping to ride this good energy to another win at home.