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DI Elite’s Battle: Lindenwood vs. Life

  • 08 Apr 2019

Photo: Alex Ho (

Lindenwood University and Life University met in the DI Elite National Championship again, having not seen each other in a 15s match since the previous national final. The teams did their research, prepared for individual and team strengths, and treated the crowd to a brutally tough game that required every ounce of their effort and resilience. In the end, the Lions retained their title with a 36-19 win.

While the pre-game odds favored 2018 champion Lindenwood, Life clearly had not accepted those assumptions. The Running Eagles, which had taken a lighter approach in Saturday’s captain run, exerted the pressure early on. The opening kickoff went to Lindenwood but a knock-on later turned over possession near the 22. Quick work in the breakdown forced a not-releasing penalty, and scrumhalf Bridget Kahele went quickly for the dive-over try. Freshman prop Jessica Keating converted for the 7-0 lead after three minutes.

Photo: Alex Ho (

“We knew what we were after, and we knew what we needed to do,” Life prop Megan Rom said. “We came out of the gate swinging because we knew it was going to be a hard one, so we wanted to get the points up high.”

There the score held for the next 15 minutes, and Life had to withstand a long Lindenwood drive inside its 22. Aniya Matina nearly scored off a Life 5m scrum but was held up. As the 20-minute mark approached, play moved back closer to mid-field, and the Running Eagles had, for the time being, halted Lindenwood’s best scoring opportunities to that point.

“Life was putting so much energy into the game. We haven’t had that difficult [of a] game in the past weeks and months, and so it was a shock for us,” championship MVP Teresa Bueso Gomez said of the opening quarter. “’Oh we need to wake up,’ you know? We just talked to each other, to stick to the easy things, to stick to playing with each other.”

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From a scrum, Susan Adegoke, who had shifted from wing to fullback for the absent Alex Sedrick, inserted into the line for a good punch forward. Ana Fanning put a nice flat pass to Summer Harris Jones, who powered past her opposite and covering defense for the 50-meter try. The wing circled closer to the posts before grounding, making Keating’s conversion easier, 14-0.

In the try zone, Lindenwood used the opportunity to regroup.

“When we were down 14-0, we were like, ‘We need to calm down,’” Bueso Gomez said. “Because the girls can get really nervous but we still had 60 minutes of the game to go. We just needed to calm down and play the rugby we know how to play.

“We were doing 50-50 offloads, like getting into contact and just throwing the ball and stuff,” the MVP recalled the specific fixes. “So we wanted to focus on the possession of the ball because without it we wouldn’t be able to win. So it was just get the ball, go forward, go down, do the simple things. If the pass is not on, then don’t give it and just build from there.”

Photo: Alex Ho (

Play was back in Lindenwood’s end after Fanning drilled a nice, long kick into space. Richelle Stephens fielded it nicely, and Harris Jones was quick on the chase to keep the game in the Lions’ 22. A penalty allowed for a little breathing room and then fullback Caring De Freitas broke free for a long break that Adegoke halted near Life’s 22. De Freitas was isolated and yet somehow able to delay the poach long enough for support to arrive. Life then gave up an offsides penalty and Hawkins made good on the opportunity at posts, 14-3.

Lindenwood lifted. A hip pass to Mary Healy put the agile prop into the open field for a long break to Life’s 22. After a bunch of phases, Bueso Gomez took an angled run to draw in several defenders before releasing wing Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru into the corner, 14-8.

Photo: Alex Ho (

Minutes later, from a scrum in Lindenwood’s end, the ball moved out to the backs and then back inside to Tarau Peehikuru inserting from the weak side. She tore toward the sideline and then back across the defense for the try, 14-13, Life still in the lead.

Just before the break, the first of two lead changes occurred. Tight, fast passes between Penina Tuilaepa, Destiny Arena and Mckenna Strong saw the Eagle tear into space. A diving-over penalty then allowed Hawkins to kick the second of three penalties, 16-14 to Lindenwood.

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“At halftime it was discussed to keep launching, because when we first started, our launch was really good and they kept fumbling the ball,” Rom recalled. “So that’s what we wanted to do – keep launching, have those hard three steps and take care of the ball when we had it.”

The third quarter was equally as thrilling. Lindenwood had the momentum and looked to get the advantage it was looking for when Harris Jones was yellow-carded for foul play. But Life went ahead unburdened and weathered Lindenwood’s fast-up defense. Maria Marin was particularly adept at evading defenders shooting off the line, ducking under out-stretched arms and then bursting into space. On one such occasion, the center connected with Adegoke, who is the definition of “turn of pace,” and the freshman beat her chasers for the try. Kahele’s conversion rebounded off the crossbar, 19-16 to Life.

Fanning fielded the deep restart cleanly but waited a little too long and a forward pass resulted. Lindenwood reset with a scrum in great position and eventually made good on the opportunity as Tarau-Peehikuru took the punch from five meters and then offloaded to No. 8 Nika Paogofie-Buyten in the corner, 21-19 to Lindenwood.

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Minutes later, a miscommunication off the scrum saw a pass go to ground in the backs, and Bueso Gomez was there for the pick-up. After a quick in-and-out, the MVP connected with Kodi Barlow, who sent one last pass to Tarau-Peehikuru. The wing was stopped just short of the try line, but a couple of phases later, De Freitas was over for the score, 26-19.

In the fourth quarter, Lindenwood played with more possession. Marisa Hall broke through the line for a long run to the five meter, and that territory eventually set up Hawkins’ third penalty. Minutes later, more penalties kept Lindenwood with ball in hand, and with approximately five minutes to go, Bueso Gomez dove over for the final try, which Hawkins converted, 36-19.

Photo: Alex Ho (

“We tried not to give up and stuck it out to the end,” Rom said. “We knew some of Lindenwood’s tricks and we tried to combat them, especially with the back three – they used to have the back three in there. We changed it up and then they pulled the switch on us and they only had one in the back and they were playing the same defense as us. They played some very good defense.”

Asked how it feels to win a national championship in come-back fashion, the MVP said, “It’s amazing, especially with so many seniors graduating. I feel like we deserve it, because we’ve work so hard for it. We had to just come here and do what we’ve been doing all year. I’m really happy.”

Photo: Alex Ho (

Life University was a tremendous opponent that not only held two separate leads over Lindenwood but also helped produce one of those highly competitive matches that serves collegiate rugby as a whole.

“I’m proud of this team because Lindenwood is destroying everyone all the time but we’re the only team that’s been able to keep up with them. We scored on them first and then they came back and fought us,” said a teary-eyed Rom. “But I am more than proud of this team, because we had a good fight.”

Watch the full game:

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