VT with the Commonwealth Shield (Photo: Christy Pierce)
When Virginia Tech beat Virginia Women’s Rugby (UVA) in the teams’ DI Mason-Dixon conference match in the fall, two things happened: The Hokies banked the confidence and momentum to keep building, and UVA targeted a gap to close. On Saturday, the distance between the two teams became just two points.
“There are rivalries in all states. UVA is a powerhouse in rugby and they set the benchmark,” Virginia Tech forwards coach Mick Lee said. “This game was a good punch in the mouth for us. It really was a game of grit, and the team had to dig deep [to win].”
It was also a very different game from the one contested in the fall. UVA had played a double-header that weekend, and the weather conditions allowed the squads to play their preferred styles. A torrential downpour marked Saturday’s contest, and although the turf field meant that the game could go on, the teams had to adjust strategies for slippery conditions.
“UVA has big, well trained ball-runners who get over the gainline. We knew that was coming,” Lee said. “They really challenged us at the breakdown, which was something, given the conditions, that was a big area of contention.”
The UVA forwards “were eating us up,” said Lee, and the home team led for the majority of the match and into the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech scrumhalf Cailin Donegan kept her composure and handled herself well given the amount of activity around the rucks. Meanwhile, back captain Kirn Kaur and center Jetta Owens, and forwards Amelia Griese and Grace Pierce kept the team focused.
“We’re lucky to have a lot of fantastic seniors who’ve played a lot of rugby,” Lee said. “When we have to readjust, they’re the ones who drive that and set the tone.”
But the team also uses these high-pressure games to blood young players, like flanker Meaghan Brown and Jane Duncan, who positively impacted the pitch and reinforced a scrum that was continually called into action.
“It was horrendous conditions, so there were lots of knock-ons, and scrums. We had prepared against the [Virginia Tech] men, so we knew we had that part of our game locked up,” Lee said of the set piece.
Lee is also the forwards coach for the Virginia Tech men and indicated that there’s a special synergy between the teams this year. New friendships had been forming, genuine support followed, and now the coach share (Lee joined the women’s staff last spring after three years with the men) aided this budding partnership.
“We got into our work late in the second half and scored a really important try about 12 minutes out,” the coach said. “The conversion was good – we have a very good goal kicker – and we went up by two. The message from there was to hold on and back our defense.”
The Hokies leaned on their fitness and finished out the game for the 21-19 win.
“The mark of a good team is when you’re not able to play your best game you can still find a way to win. It’s a great attribute,” Lee said.
Both teams have one more matrix match apiece, and then the next marker will be conference quarterfinals against the south teams. Before then, the teams will have spring break (UVA is going to Ireland), and Virginia Tech will host its Knockout ALS tournament.
“Our squad is training for 7s, too, so we need spring break,” Lee addressed whether the gap affects the build-up. “We’re training four days a week and attrition takes its toll. We’re managing this group all the way to the finals, so we’re bringing up-and-coming players, getting them a lot of time, and creating depth that will be important toward the end.”
Should Virginia Tech’s and UVA’s southern counterparts commit, then they’ll host their respective quarterfinals on March 30. The semifinals and final will be held April 6-7, and the spring regionals follow on April 20-21.