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Davenport Brings Intensity to CRAA Final

  • 24 Nov 2021
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Co-captain Gable with Crist in support / Photo: Bobby Gable

Davenport University is heading to the Collegiate Rugby Association of America (CRAA) DI Fall Championship on Dec. 4 in Matthews, N.C. Competing in the western portion of the bracket in Norman, Okla., the Panthers defeated the two Rocky Mountain conference teams: Univ. Colorado 72-10 in the quarterfinals and Utah State 70-26 in the semifinals. Davenport will now face the U.S. Naval Academy, the victor in the east, for the fall title.

RELATED: CRAA DI Fall Bracket

Davenport University played a nearly complete Big 10 schedule and also mixed in competitive friendlies, like the road trip to Penn State.

“This weekend is we came in ready to play. With our Iowa match being canceled [in the final week of the regular season] we were hungry for some rugby,” Davenport co-captain Mariah Pruitt explained. “Being undefeated in the Big 10 Conference we were eager to show everyone what we are capable of.”


DeWitt off the tee / Photo: Bobby Gable

Pruitt is five months post-ACL surgery and will return in the spring, but the team has co-captain Bethany Gable to lead the on-pitch performance.

“Some major points of focus for the team heading into the playoffs were to execute our system at the level we’ve been building towards, working hard to stay connected as a defensive line, and really trying to master the basics within our gameplay,” Gable detailed goals for Oklahoma. “I feel like the team came together as a unit and focused in on these goals. There were definitely still moments where we could see improvements are still needed, but overall the drive and effort was definitely noticeable and we executed a lot of what we’ve been striving for.”

Pruitt noted the desire to maintain high energy from kickoff to final whistle, and that objective was fulfilled on Saturday. Davenport was fast, disciplined and skilled, and beat Colorado 72-10. Little changed as the team readied for Utah State, which won its quarterfinal 40-19 against Michigan. Utah State, however, fielded a very different back line against the devastatingly fast Davenport back line, and lynchpin Abigail Hymas moved from outside center to fullback. That said, Hymas still scored 21 of Utah State’s 26 points Sunday.


Gohl was absolutely electric. / Photo: Bobby Gable

Meanwhile, Davenport recorded 70 points in the victory. Eleven players scored tries across the weekend: outside center Grace Gohl (5), wing Lauren Peterson (4), fullback Megan Bird (2), wing Kaley Gustavus (2), inside center Abbi Kowalczak (2), flanker Ashleigh DeWitt (2), lock Lily O’Connor (2), prop Taylor Badal, scrumhalf Aubrey Crist, and reserves Chloe Baumann (2) and Anise Tuia accounted for tries. DeWitt also kicked 10 conversions and Crist added one.

Both Pruitt and Gable credited the team-wide effort that produced the comprehensive wins, and called out some special performances.

“Our back line really came together to create some key passing lines and plays that helped to build our momentum in the games,” Gable started. “Addy Ochoa, our flyhalf, made some great calls, with incredible finishes from Lauren Peterson, Grace Gohl, Kaley Kowalczak and Megan Bird. The forwards and scrumhalf Aubrey Christ also had a lot of crucial connecting plays off of set pieces that kept our game play at a high intensity level throughout the match. Chloe Bauman had a memorable performance at inside center despite it not being her primary position, and contributed greatly to the success of the back lines flow and completion of the plays being called.”

Kowalczak and Gustavus are both rookies and Pruitt praised their ability to step into a high-stakes game and trust their speed and footwork for multiple line-breaks.


Photo: Bobby Gable

“The forward pack played a structured game and broke the defensive line against both teams,” Pruitt added. “Lily O’Connor had a great showing with her offensive skills and clean footwork. Bethany Gable led the team with her constant yardage gain and powerful contact skills. Our flankers, Ashleigh DeWitt and Valencia Goldsmith, were strong on defense and urgent to the ball on offense. The forward pack has shown much improvement since the beginning of the season.”

Davenport put in a round performance, and the Grand Rapids, Mich., team is hoping to roll that momentum into the final.

“These wins have shown the team how far we have come together throughout our season,” Gable explained the weekend’s impact on then squad. “We have a lot of fresh faces and being able to see everyone successfully come together to work toward these wins as a whole is a huge, positive impact. The team is feeling very optimistic moving forward, and these wins have only created an even bigger desire to continue improving and working hard on any shortcomings from the weekend leading up until the final match.”

Gable indicated that “intensity” marks the team vibe right now, and that’s what has advanced the team to this point in the season so far.

“This weekend was a much needed success for the team. We were able to see how much the hard work we’ve put in since August paid off,” Pruitt closed. “With the last couple of years being so inconsistent for rugby, this weekend helped us regain composure and find our connection on the field. The team is eager for Charlotte and we know what kind of work still needs to be done in order to take on Navy. We are so grateful for the opportunity to show the rugby community what we can do and so excited to play on December 4.”

The CRAA DI Fall Championship will kick off at 6 p.m. ET.

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