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Lindenwood’s Paogofie-Buyten: Manage Nerves & Show Up

  • 02 Apr 2019

Nika Paogofie-Buyten / Photo: Jackie Finlan

The last time Lindenwood University and Life University played each other in 15s, it was for the 2018 USA Rugby DI Elite National Championship. Fast-forward a year, and the teams are back in California for the 2019 national final, this time getting the proper rest for a one-game showpiece at Stanford’s Steuber Rugby Stadium this Sunday at 12 p.m. Pacific.

The finalists have had very different build-ups this year. Life’s Karissa Lacy and Ros Chou talk about a season of re-establishing itself, whereas Lindenwood’s 2018 fall looked like an extension of the previous season. The Lions wasted no time in demonstrating that fact, traveling to NorCal for a win over DI club national champion Life West, now in the WPL.

“I definitely think it makes a huge difference,” Lindenwood University No. 8 Nika Paogofie-Buyten said of roster continuity. “The majority of the team that is going into the upcoming final has been in the previous final, with a few new girls as the exception. Those older girls who know what it takes and kind of lead the way for the younger ones – what it’s going to take to win this final, the attitude you need to go for it. So I definitely think it gives us a foot up going into the final by having a taste of what it’s been like.”

Alex Ho Photo /

Lindenwood faced Central Washington in the DI Elite semifinals two weekends ago in Greenville, S.C. The Lions’ starting lineup included just two players – freshman Morgan Freeman and junior Richelle Stephens – who weren’t on the roster for the 2018 national final.

“Going into the Central Washington match, we knew it was going to be a fight … but we knew what we had to do,” Paogofie-Buyten said. “All we wanted to focus on was being there for one another and running with what we know, and we did exactly that. The result was in the first 30 seconds. We ended up scoring, and that’s how we knew we were clicked on.”

Lindenwood deployed a ruthlessly fast and well connected game, and then methodically worked its deep bench to keep the pace high. Freshmen like Aniya Matina and Nohea Uluave also got a good taste of DI Elite playoff ball, and the squad came together for a 68-7 win over Central Washington (read more).

Alex Ho Photo /

“We were in sync,” the No. 8 said. “We beat Central, and we’re happy that happened, but going into the final, we’re focusing on some things we need to work, such as our defense. That could have been better. We know that Life is going to be a good punch, so we definitely tweaked some things to take into the final.”

Familiarity goes a long way, but that’s not to say Lindenwood will cruise into the final 15s game of the season.

“The toughest thing I would say is just trying to remain calm. A lot of the new players get very nervous, but the veterans struggle with it, too – even in this previous playoff. But it’s how you handle your nerves,” Paogofie-Buyten said.

“If I’m feeling nervous, then I know my girls are as well, which actually gives me comfort going into a match,” the junior said of personal strategies to overcome pre-game jitters. “Sometimes right before the ball is kicked off, my hands are even shaking I’m so nervous. But I take 5-10 seconds, I look over my left shoulder and my right shoulder to see my teammates, and I’m like, ‘They have my back, I have their back, and everything’s going to be alright.’”

Alex Ho Photo /

There’s a different pressure this year, since Lindenwood is coming in as the defending champion as opposed to the rising challenger. Life will no doubt be pumped up for the dethroning opportunity.

“We’ve won quite a few [7s and 15s] championships in the last year or two, so going into this one, I can definitely say the target is on our back, and I’m sure people want to take the title as much as we want it,” Paogofie-Buyten said. “That pressure of holding it down and taking that W again is definitely lingering.”

There’s potential for some drama, as Life and Lindenwood haven’t seen each other this year, and so there’s no previous fixture on which to base expectations. Players will have to adjust on the fly, which always makes for entertaining rugby. Fortunately, their performances won’t be impacted by fatigue, as the championship isn’t part of a double-header weekend like years past.

Alex Ho Photo /

“This two-week break between playoffs and the final is new and different, but it’s what’s best. You get to rejuvenate, and so you’re going to get the best out of both teams. There’s no excuses about rest or anything else, so both teams are going to be at 100%,” Paogofie-Buyten said. “We’re guessing on them as much as they’re guessing on us, so we’re just going to show up and give it our best shot.”

The national final will kick off at 12 p.m. Pacific on Sunday, April 7. Stanford has the ability to live-stream from its Facebook page; the question is whether USA Rugby will pick up the feed. Will update.

“I definitely want to compliment my team,” Paogofie-Buyten said of final thoughts. “We have a lot of curves that come our way, but I can tell you that from our starters, to our finishers, to even our second side team, we have a lot of talent built up, and I think it shows in the way we play. I think it shows in our sisterhood. … Not a lot of people see the practice and the hours we put in – it’s a bunch – and even making it to a national final, that’s great enough for me because of all the work we’ve put in.”

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