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Fresno Takes West Coast Title to Regionals

  • 09 Apr 2019

Photos (Jackie Finlan) from West Coast semifinals

Fresno State defeated Saint Mary’s College (SMC) 50-21 in the DII West Coast conference championship last Sunday in Monterey, Calif. Both teams head to the USA Rugby DII College Spring Championship, beginning with the Round of 16/8 in Irvine, Calif. (April 19-20). There, Fresno State will play Long Beach State, and Claremont will face SMC, and the victors will play for a berth to Matthews, N.C. (May 3-4).

During Saturday’s West Coast semifinals, Fresno State defeated UN Reno 63-38, and SMC beat San Jose State 59-22. Both of those games featured tightly contested first halves, as the eventual victors adjusted to the intensity of their underdog opponents. The final evolved similarly, although neither side was considered a favorite. When the teams last faced each other, SMC won 24-19.

SMC vs. San Jose State in semis (Photo: Jackie Finlan)

An intense first half evolved as the teams scored three tries apiece. Wing Chetna Kumar-Naicker, Championship MVP and flyhalf Regan Garner, and No. 8 Megan Oleski dotted down for Fresno State, while Gaels flyhalf Jill Eicher, wing Erin Walsh and flanker Andrea Zaragoza also scored tries. SMC lock Danielle Destefano converted all three extra points – Garner kicked two – to put the Gaels up 21-19 into the break.

“The girls are doing a really good job adapting as the game goes on. They’re handling the pressure situations extremely well and not getting discouraged, even though we were down a few points at half for both of those matches,” Fresno State backs coach Amber Cluff noted. “They do an amazing job maintaining positivity, and they are great active listeners. A few notes, and then a little positive pump-up talk from your leaders, and they were good to go! They have that never-give-up attitude and it’s really cool to witness the spark in them to turn it up.”

Regan Garner vs. UN Reno (Photo: Jackie Finlan)

The coaches gave very specific notes on what to clean up and how to execute those changes. That became the focus for the final 40 minutes, and the players came through. Garner, captain Raquel Macias, inside center Averi Peterson and outside center Laura Ellison-Seeger all scored tries, while Garner added the extras. The defense posted a second-half shutout in the 50-21 win.

“These girls are focused when they feel that pressure, they’re leaving it all out on the pitch and that surge in positive attitude, confidence, and effort is stunning,” Cluff praised the team.

“We had certain goals that we set for ourselves at the beginning of season. We’ve also revisited them a few more times since we have such a long season,” Cluff added. “Winning the conference championship and getting to postseason play were just two major goals that we were able to check off this past weekend.”

The brackets for the DII College Spring Championship have not yet been released, as some adjustments were needed at the Little Rock, Ark., and Greenville, N.C., locations. But the western pool is solid, so stay tuned for game previews.

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