Charlotte left a trail of broken hearts last year. During the 2018 South DII Club Championship, the North Carolina team beat its semifinal and final opponents by a combined 10 points. In the national quarterfinals and semifinals, Charlotte won by a combined nine points before defeating St. Louis for the national championship.
Knoxville was the first team to have its dreams dashed, dropping a 24-21 contest to Charlotte in the 2018 South semifinals. Many of those Minx returned for the 2018-19 season and used the close loss as motivation.
“I don’t know how it compares to years past, but we have lots of experience. The majority of starters, and a lot of the subs, have played five-plus years,” said Knoxville newcomer Katie Erb, who joined the team in July 2018. “I do know that we have better numbers. For example, we have 17 pack players. That’s huge!”
Erb is one of those valuable additions. The Charlotte native picked up the game at East Carolina University, and after five years in Greenville, N.C., moved to Colorado. For the next four years, the junior high teacher attempted to establish and sustain a senior women’s club in Colorado Springs before relocating closer to home.
Erb joined at inside center and the back line looked to captain Kristen Coulston at scrumhalf for direction. In the forwards, captain Keisha Malika and Regina Durkan, both flankers, set the standard.
“It didn’t take much time for us to gel,” Erb reflected on the two matrix wins in the fall. “There were a couple of players who needed to learn more about positioning and stuff like that, but we were playing like a team pretty early on. We have so many different people scoring it’s hard to pinpoint who are the best players because we work so well together.
“’Creativity’ and ‘flow’ – those two words describe it,” Erb described the team’s playing style. “We have a lot of set plays but a lot of it is about what you see. There are a lot of players just reading the field and looking for the space and calling for the ball – no matter what position.”
Knoxville went 4-0 during matrix season and outscored opponents 188-43. The Minx took the top seed to the True South championship and lined up against #4 Memphis during the semifinals.
“Heading into True Souths, we were confident but had some healthy nerves. Just showed that we cared,” Erb said. “We knew we could do well, but sports are sports. I’ve played in some many games where it should have gone our way but they just don’t.”
Knoxville won 55-0, and put scrumhalf Coulston, wing Britney Heatherly and outside center Allison Vandecar away for two tries apiece. Props Amy Satkowiak and Maegan Buchanan, and flanker Durkan also dotted down in the final four win.
“They never make it easy. They have players who run hard and are hard-hitting, but we stuck to our game,” Erb said of Memphis. “In the second half, they tried me out at scrumhalf and moved Kris to outside center, and because it flowed well, we kept that lineup for finals.
“That was the position I’ve always played so I’m comfortable there,” Erb spoke to her halfback experience. “Now that I’ve learned how the team plays, it feels more comfortable – because it’s not just me. With all the experience on this team, people communicate with me and I just listen.”
Meanwhile, Nashville won its True South semifinal over Louisiana Lagniappe, pitting the Stone Lions and Minx against each other in the Sunday final.
“Nashville’s strength is their backline so we were preparing to come up hard and together, and shift out to contain the speed,” Erb said of focus heading into the title match. “Again, not so much focused on them but on our game and ourselves and what we can do.”
Knoxville scored 24 points before Nashville got on the board and then ran out to a 39-17 win. Buchanan, Durkan, Coulston, No. 8 Vivian Swayne, fullback Maggie Syversen, Margaret Behringer and flyhalf Haley Forman all scored tries, while Coulston kicked the extras.
“A lot of us are very calm and collected people, so it wasn’t a huge celebration, but we were definitely happy,” Erb said of the True South title and berth to the South championship. “We’re playing well and this is a year we could go farther.”
The South championship will occur May 4-5 in Savannah, Ga., and the Knoxville will play the Carolinas/Georgia champion in the semifinals. The other side of the bracket is Fort Miami vs. Carolinas/Georgia runner-up.
“We just want to play well and if we play well the results will come,” Erb spoke to goals at Souths. “We really focus on playing our game, supporting each other and having fun together.”