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Eckerd to Benefit from Hybrid Florida

  • 07 Feb 2019

Photos: Nathan Kovacs (full album) and Chace Lewis (full album)

Florida combined its Division I and Division II teams into one hybrid competition, but the conference will still send a representative to both spring championships in late April. The move brings some diversity into DI and consistency into the forfeit-ridden DII. Eckerd College is one of those teams that could benefit from this setup, given its dominance in the local DII and ability to challenge DI.

Actually the Sirens do more than just challenge Division I and beat Florida 35-7 in the fall friendly season. The team also banked a 101-5 victory over Kennesaw State, a former DII spring champion that’s currently rebuilding outside of the SIRC matrix season (read more from SIRC co-commissioner Becky Martin), and challenged itself against senior club Tampa (45-29 loss). These opportunities helped Eckerd shape up for its league opener last weekend: a 76-0 win over DI South Florida.

“It’s definitely a changed team but I think in a lot of ways it is stronger than previous years,” Eckerd College head coach Mike Geibel explained. “Ally [Gallagher] graduating left a gap that we needed to fill defensively and I think the players this year have really stepped up to do just that. She was such a good player that we sometimes got caught watching her and relying on her to make tackles and score tries that now the rest of the team is forced to do. They’ve adjusted well and are definitely getting it done.”

But Kat Scheerer is still kicking it, and the senior captain just crossed the 500 career points mark. She’s going to be recognized – along with the team’s recent accomplishments – during halftime of the DII Basketball Showcase on Feb. 20 on ESPN3. Scheerer has moved from fullback to outside center this year, and putting the ball in her hands more often has paid off.

“We have a few freshmen backs who have really stepped up and picked up the game so quickly. I think having them play in the NSCRO 7s tournament really boosted their confidence and skills on both sides of the ball,” Geibel praised.

Geibel is referring to the NSCRO 7s All-Star Championship that occurred in January 2019. Eckerd College is in a unique place, figuratively and literally. The small school is NSCRO eligible, but competing in the organization’s fall 15s season and championship would go against the state’s embrace of a fall friendly/spring matrix setup. Teams like Lee University opt in as at-large teams (the team would otherwise compete in SIRC) but it’s tough to go against the grain of your local competition.

That said, 7s all-stars falls in between the fall friendly and spring matrix seasons, and Eckerd essentially fielded two teams for the South. That exposure allows players to enter the NSCRO Select 7s system, and Eckerd has been well represented at that level.

So one should expect Eckerd to have a well functioning back line, especially with senior club president Stasia Babicki directing play from scrumhalf. Babicki and Scheerer are the only two seniors (of five total) who have played all four years, and they’re doing a great job leading the team and readying the younger classes for the future. Chloe Hill, for example, is apprenticing behind Babicki, and the wing is a likely candidate for next year’s scrumhalf.

“Chloe Root is the first true 12 we’ve had in a long time and it is fun to watch her play. When she runs hard up the middle it is pure carnage,” Geibel continued.

“Stephie’s time with the Jamaican team over the summer has really turned her into a better player as well,” the coach praised Franz. “She has better instincts and decision-making on offense, and she finally found her strength in contact that was a little shaky at times in the past.”

Eckerd College is bracing itself for this weekend’s game against University of Central Florida, the 2018 DI College Spring Championship runner-up, and then will have more opportunities to work the depth against DII Florida Gulf Coast and Florida International the subsequent two weeks. The final month of matrix ends with three DI games, and league play wraps up on April 6. The regional championships are April 20-21, and thus far, USA Rugby has announced Greenville, N.C. (East Carolina University) and Little Rock, Ark., as eastern sites.

“Overall I think we’re stronger than we’ve been and this could be a good year for us,” Geibel concluded. “We’ve never broken into the win column at the regional playoffs weekend, on either Saturday or Sunday, so hopefully we can stay healthy and this could be the year.”

For information on the league, click here.

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