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Jazz Fights in Frontier Final

  • 10 May 2016

Championship leading scorer Michele Rupard /// Photo: Michael Campbell 


The Kansas City Jazz had a good idea of how the DII Frontier championship was going to evolve. The Missouri side had dominated league play and expected a one-sided semifinal win against Kansas State and a good game from Boulder in the final. While those predictions came to fruition, the weekend turned out more difficult – and consequently fulfilling – than anticipated.


The Wildcats showed up with 16 players for Saturday’s semifinal, and the Jazz took a 92-0 win.


“We expected it but didn’t think it would be a complete shutout,” Kansas City match secretary Julie Bode said. “We went in and just tried to have a nice, calm game and managed the time as well as possible so players wouldn’t be exhausted for Sunday.”


Tries came from Tiffany Howard, Jaime Diaz, Michele Rupard (2), Alex Zupan (2), Meredith Stalker, Elydia Thomas (2), Abigail Smith (2), Meghan Nelsen, Julia Buescher and Abby Higgins. Rupard kicked eight conversions, a penalty and drop-goal to lead all point-scorers.


Meanwhile, Boulder battled to a thrilling 25-24 semifinal win over St. Louis. The teams traded scores in the first half, with Megan Payton and Kirsten Barkmeier accounting for the Babes’ first-half tries, and Claire Kelley and Katherine Closter dotting down for the Sabres. Alexandra Cole’s conversion put St. Louis up 12-10 at the break.


The try-trading trend continued into the second half, as Hillary Griffith scored twice for St. Louis, and Boulder answered with two scores from Brittany Katalenas. The Sabres led 24-20 until the 77th minute, when inside center Payton dotted for the go-ahead try, 25-24. The game essentially ended with a held-up try from St. Louis.


“They had an intense match Saturday and fought tooth and nail,” said Bode, whose team took in the semifinal. “In the first half, they tended to play a piston-style offense. In the second half, they did more of a quick pass to the inside and then nice wide pass out to the backs after that. They threw in some kicks when they could, so we prepared for that.”


The Jazz discussed how the defense would adjust to Boulder’s varying offense, but the Babes didn’t have much opportunity with ball in hand Sunday. Kansas City retained the majority of possession but took some time to pull away with the 34-5 win. After 20 minutes, the Jazz led 5-0 on a Higgins try.


“There were some knock-ons, tiny things from us, but the big thing was having our scrumhalf get red-carded 20 minutes into the game,” Bode said of Jennifer Page’s absence. “Rest of the game, we were down to 14 players and had others step into the position depending on what the situation called for.”


Weakside wing Zupan and flyhalf Higgins took turns filling in, while the rest of the team played heads-up ball to make sure the field was covered at all times. Players dropped into the backfield, covered the short side and relied on constant communication to pull out the win.


Minutes after backs captain Page was ejected, championship MVP Buescher scored to give her side a 10-0 lead at the break.


“She was the standout by far,” Bode said of the recent Central Missouri graduate and No. 8.  “She played both full games. She made fantastic movements as our jumper in the lineout, good plays with all the scrums and awesome open-field tackles.”


The second half saw Smith and Buescher score two tries apiece, while Rupard accounted for two conversions. Boulder prevented the shutout during the final 10 minutes, sending flyhalf Grady across for five.


“Everyone stepped up,” Bode said. “Even though we were in the worst situation we’ve been in all year, and had others come out with injuries, I was very impressed with the constant adjusting and field coverage. It was by far the biggest thing we took away from the weekend.”


Kansas City is hoping that Page’s red card hearing will allow the scrumhalf to travel to Tucson for the national quarterfinals. It would be a huge blow if the halfback must sit out the team’s games against Houston Athletic, and either Life West or Ventura on day two.


“Back in August we set the goal of making it back to regional national playoffs, which we’ve checked off the list,” Bode looked ahead. “Our second goal is we want to win on Saturday. Last year, we lost to the Amazons then won against Ventura County. Honestly, we don’t care if we win on Sunday; we just want to win on Saturday to show that we’re capable of playing at the next level.”


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