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Davenport Crowned DII Champ

  • 08 May 2016

MVP Hunter Moreland made good use of Davenport’s stolen scrums. /// Photos: Jackie Finlan 


Davenport won the DII college national championship with a comprehensive 61-0 win over the University of Southern California yesterday at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. The title marked the three-year-old program’s first and confirmed its year-long place atop the rankings.


“Ever since I started playing rugby back in high school, this was the dream,” said championship MVP Hunter Moreland. “This is what I came here for – besides school – to play in games like this. Rugby brought me life. This – it’s indescribable right now. My heart is pounding out of my chest.”


The first half was a game. Light rain made for greasy conditions and handling errors helped equalize the field for about 30 minutes. USC did well to steal a scrum inside its 22 meter but opted to run the ball out of danger rather than test the back three’s hands with a clearing kick. The choice proved fatal, as the Davenport defense kept the ball in USC’s end and eventually gained possession after a knock-on. From the scrum, the Panthers launched some pick-and-pummel phases before sending Moreland across for the first of her three tries. Fullback Hannah Tennant kicked the first of her five conversions seven minutes in.


“They were very good at contesting the rucks,” Moreland said of USC. “They had hard hitters and runners. The first tackle of the game I almost got laid on my butt by some girl. They weren’t here to just play a game; they came here to win a national championship.”


USC got its chances at Davenport’s try line. Marion Wood, Alexis Bradby, Joyce Chuinkam were able to make ground in tight, and flyhalf Yesenia Camacho kept the fringe defense guessing. But the Trojans couldn’t stress the defense enough for space out wide. The diehard work of captain Julia Mayer and some memorable tackles from Veronica Overbeek led the charge around the breakdown. Flyhalf Ashlee Byrge was effective in the poach and outside center Danielle Ordway (photo) was instrumental in shutting down the outside attack. Although penalties helped USC stay in Davenport’s end, the Trojans could only go through so many phases before a turnover.


Fifteen minutes in, Tennant added a penalty for a 10-0 lead, and there the scoreline held until about five minutes remaining in the half. Ordway put wing Madison Sparks into space for a 50-meter breakaway, and Davenport earned more gains when scrumhalf Maddy Teliczan switched fields for some forward punches. The Panthers pack had found its rhythm and was turning over USC scrums with regularity. USC scrumhalf Elle Mustion attempted to move the ball away from one such scrum deep in Trojans territory, but a bobble in the outlet pass was quickly scooped up and moved to Byrge. She danced around the defense for the converted try, 17-0.


Davenport scored shortly after the restart, as Allison Miedzielec’s change of pace froze the defense on the short side. The prop pinned the fullback and hit Moreland in support for the half-ending try, 22-0.


“We’re all playmakers,” Moreland said. “I’m a difference-maker, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates because they set me up for these scores and stuff. Without them I wouldn’t get the ball rolling.”


Tennant added an early penalty, and then USC was yellow-carded. Davenport’s power runners – Moreland, Miedzielec, Makala Ferguson, among others – took advantage of the room afforded them and used their momentum to further stress a depleted defense. Passes started connecting better, and the game broke open.


“We came in with a fire lit under our butts, but we’ve always been a second-half team,” Moreland said. “We had a couple bad passes, a few missed tackles, but it was what we did after that that brought us to win this national championship.”


Having played an important role on defense in the first half, Ordway used the second half to leave her imprint on offense. The Women’s Collegiate All American scored four tries, taking the corner and beating pursuers on flat-out speed and footwork.


Davenport enjoyed a lot of possession, as the pack stole nearly every USC scrum. Moreland completed her hat trick when replacement scrumhalf Tara Taljaard broke weak and hit the No. 8 for the final hard yards. Similarly, Byrge attacked weak off a scrum and dished to wing Madison Sparks, who wove through traffic for a try.


“It hasn’t been easy,” Moreland reflected on the long build-up to nationals. “But the work was so worth it. In the fall, our biggest hold-back was our fitness. So some days, we wouldn’t even touch a rugby ball at practice. We were just straight conditioning to prepare. The hours running and all this work, it was worth it. This feeling – I don’t have words for this.”


Fortunately, Moreland and team don’t need words. They have first-place medals and a national championship trophy to do the talking.


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