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Lacy on Life as a Running Eagle

  • 25 Mar 2019

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

For Karissa Lacy, Furman University has a special full-circle feel to it. A former weightlifter and flag football aficionado, Lacy gravitated toward rugby during freshman year at the University of South Florida. In her first year, USF traveled to Greenville, S.C., for the 2015 DII College Spring Regional Championships. The site simultaneously hosted the DI regional playoffs, which featured a budding program in Life University.

“I remember Life rolled up in this big bus and bright green kit, and I thought, ‘I want to be on that team. How do I do that,’” Lacy said. “Someone said you have to be a chiropractor, so I put that in the back of my mind.”

Serendipitously, Lacy had a chiropractic appointment with a Life alum, who connected the collegian with Running Eagles head coach Ros Chou. The Floridian attended the summer camp and was recruited for fall 2015, which marked the program’s biggest incoming class up until that point. Today, Lacy is a graduate student at the chiropractic school, and when she returned to Greenville last Sunday for the DI Elite semifinals, she did so as the team’s field captain. To boot, a late roster change saw the hooker move to flanker, a position she played at USF. Lacy then led the team to a 34-31 semifinal win over Penn State.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

“I remember when I first started [at Life], the biggest goal was to beat Penn State. They had 12 national championships and [sat atop the] hierarchy of women’s rugby,” said Lacy, who had a broken ankle during the 2018 semifinal win over the Nittany Lions and then missed the fall 2018 rematch and victory.

Life was eager to put a third-straight win underway, and the game began at a furious, end-switching pace.

“We started pretty strongly out of the gate,” Lacy recalled first impressions from Sunday’s semifinal. “We had one of Ana Fanning’s favorites – cross kick to our strong wing [Summer Harris-Jones]. There was a slight knock-on, but to already have that pressure and intensity was exciting, and that set the tone.”

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

Life scored 17 first-half points before Penn State added a penalty kick before the break.

“It came as a shock,” Lacy said of the halftime score. “That [lead] is due to our speed. We know that is our super power and that was the strategy against Penn State. We also knew they were going to answer for sure, and they came out hard in the second half.”

Penn State scored pretty quickly after the break to close within 17-10, and Life needed a lift. At this point, the team had already experienced a setback when a dangerous tackle sidelined fullback Alex Sedrick for the remainder of the match. Lacy indicated that it was an emotional turn of events, but it inspired the team to make sure that her injury wasn’t for naught. Freshman Adrionna Duncan came off the bench, slotted into wing, and, “ … had one of the best games I’ve seen. She did a great job bringing that extra kick onto the pitch,” Lacy commended.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

Life focused on its speed to the breakdown, quick ball movement and sustained pressure on the defense.

“Our flanker, Karen Faget, is always in any breakdown that isn’t extra resource,” Lacy pointed to the example-setter. “She is the work horse from start to end, and she brought everyone up. It wasn’t just her getting to the breakdowns but getting everyone else there.”

The forwards did well to secure possession, while halfbacks Bridget Kahele and Fanning made sure the crafty backs got time with ball in hand.

“Ana has been on the team since I’ve been here and this was her first time she started at 10, which is pretty much her dream,” Lacy said. “Seeing her flourish from then to now, it’s amazing, and her confidence has grown exponentially.”

Lacy added that Fanning has impacted the forwards as well, empowering the pack in terms of decision-making and developing players who better see the field.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

Life regrouped and rallied with two tries, and put freshman wing Susan Adegoke into the spotlight for her weaving and finishing abilities.

Heading into the final 15 minutes, Life led 34-17, and Penn State used that time to stage a comeback. Captains Kayla Canett and Azniv Nalbandian both scored, and with Darina Roe’s conversion, Penn State trailed 34-31 as the clock wore down.

“I think we were fatigued, and that mentality of coming from behind to win was driving Penn State more than our mentality to keep our lead,” Lacy said.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

But the clock did run out, Life is heading to the DI Elite National Championship against Lindenwood University, and Lacy got her W against Penn State.

“To finally beat them was glorious. They’re such a talented and sought-out team, and that win just raises the excitement for the next game,” Lacy said. “The whole team is feeding off that win, and now that we’ve accomplished that we can move onto the next task.”

Fortunately Life has two weeks to recover and prepare for Lindenwood, which beat Central Washington 68-5 in the teams’ semifinal. To boot, it’s Life’s spring break so once players return from a two-day rest period, they’ll only have rugby on which to focus.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

“The main thing is discipline. We had a lot of penalties in the breakdown and offsides, but those are little tune-ups,” Lacy looked ahead. “We have to stay vigilant and not give Lindenwood any extra advantage; otherwise, they’ll make us pay. They can attack from anywhere so we can’t just give them the ball.

“There’s a great difference,” Lacy compared Penn State and Lindenwood as representative opponents. “In my mind, Penn State is the historically great team. The one that has won a bunch of national championships, continues to win, has a huge support base – they’re the goal. I’d love to beat them in 10 years after already winning a national title.

All photos: Tabitha Sneed Lowe

“Lindenwood, in our eyes, is like us,” the captain continued. “They’re one of the newer teams that is striving for that goal. To me it’s more exciting. They beat Penn State first – they got to dethrone them – and now it’s a great challenge between two newer teams.”

Lindenwood and Life contested the 2018 DI Elite National Championship, and they haven’t met in a 15s match since then. They’ll reunite on Sunday, April 7 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. There is no third place game.

“It builds some pressure,” Lacy said of her final 15s game in a Running Eagles uniform. “A lot of us came in with that big first recruitment class, so this is the biggest senior class we’ve had so far, and the bench is full of seniors who are ready to play. I’ve been here four years, through all the wins and losses, and we’re hungry.”

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