Morgan Freeman / Photo: Alex Ho (’20 VSI 7s)
Lindenwood University is the first to two wins in the DI Elite (DIA), defeating Life University (0-2) 51-0 today in Marietta, Ga. The Running Eagles won the JV match 29-5.
Lindenwood did a really good job of holding onto its own ball and, for the most part, remained composed as Life really pressured on defense. And the hosts had to play a lot of defense. Inspirational performances came from players like flanker Joannah Skucek, who drove the line speed and was a constant menace; wing Autumn Locicero, who was all over loose ball and doubled lost yardage with aggressive chases; prop Kayla Pemasa, who brought the big hits in the middle of the field; and freshman center Alex Wantlin, who was very fast in the chase.
Life had some great goal-line stances, forced penalties and was able to shift energy though its defense. But ultimately, Lindenwood was able to get deep into phases, work the middle, and then take advantage of space out wide. Flyhalf Richelle Stephens did a good job of varying the attack and hooker Destiny Arena was also a great playmaker in the middle of the field, forcing the defense to make choices around looping forwards in the back line. Lindenwood took a 22-0 lead into the half, and then added five more tries in the second half.
The game started with a Life kickoff, and Stephens booted the ball downfield to Life fullback Sophie Pyrz, who was sound under the ball all day. Lindenwood was on the chase and forced a just-forward pass, relocating play to Life’s end for the next few minutes. Several times throughout the game, weakside wing Demi Allen inserted into the line, allowing Stephens to loop and hold the inner defense, and this occasion allowed wing Taina Tukuafu to gain good ground. The freshman was pushed into touch and Life had the opportunity to clear its lines, but an obstruction penalty followed. Lindenwood made good use of the territory, sending several phases to the line before Stephens hit captain Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru with the cut-out. The center connected with fullback Caring De Freitas, who put Allen away for the try out wide, 5-0 after five minutes.
Lindenwood built its next score by piling on the phases and drawing penalties. McKenna Strong took a tap penalty from Life’s 22 and the recycle went quickly to the backs and De Freitas for the try, 10-0. The restart felt like it was building to another Lions’ try, as Life started with an offsides penalty and erred on a clearance kick. Morgan Freeman was well positioned to gather the ball and Stephens kick-passed to Allen on the sideline, and play was back on Life’s 22. But then great pressure from Skucek, Locicero and Angelina Niu, as well as a nice kick from flyhalf Sydnee Cervinski built to an exciting break from Susan Adegoke on the far sideline. But the pass was just forward, and play reset.
From the Lindenwood scrum, Allen and Stephens teamed up in the line again, and hearty hits from both sides followed. Vice captain Nina Tuilaepa and No. 8 Kapoina Bailey stood out in the contact area and helped the Lions to the 22. The team went to work in the middle of the pitch and then Freeman hit Strong with a little space away from traffic for the lock’s first of two tries, 15-0.
Life made its first significant visit to Lindenwood’s 22 near the 25-minute mark. The hosts made use of a couple penalties to keep building, but then hurt itself with unforced errors off the scrum. Lindenwood really challenged the rucks as well, emphasizing the need for ball security. The drive ended when Life gave up a not-releasing penalty near Lindenwood’s 10 meter, and Stephens tapped quickly through the mark and went wide. The Running Eagles worked hard to keep the ball in its end – Pyrz, Pemasa, Skucek all doing good work to effect a turnover – but Lindenwood was eventually back in attacking territory. A couple of kick-throughs forced the defense to scramble, but it was Stephen’s grubber that ended in a penalty try, when Adegoke high-tackled Allen in the chase, 22-0.
Life started the second half down a player, but there were a couple of miscues that really hurt the team. Twice, the forward pod awaiting the outlet pass, avoided the ball out of confusion, and the ball hit the deck for a hungry Lindenwood defense to exploit. The first time it happened, Eti Haungatau was all over it and the recycle went to Bailey on the angle run,then Strong for the try, 27-0. Off the restart, Arena and Penina looped each other, and the Fallbrook alumna hit her fellow Warriors teammate for the hip pass and breakaway. Locicero chased down the flyhalf, but fast phases followed and De Freitas dummied between two defenders for the centered score, which Natalie Gray converted, 34-0.
Life lost back-to-back scrums, but the latter drew a penalty, allowing a reset. But again, indecision in the first forward pod saw a receiver’s outstretched hands withdraw, and ball hit the ground. Life recovered but the defense pounced, and Bailey knocked the ball loose in the tackle. Moira Dillow was there for the recovery. The defense stiffened, and Emerson Allen raced up the one-channel to wrap up replacement scrumhalf Meg Gold. But Gold did a fantastic job of freeing the ball while being driven backward and hitting Stephens. Life did a good job of absorbing the try-line barrage, but impatience eventually showed itself with an offsides penalty. Stephens went quick and long passes followed, ending with Tukuafu in the corner, 39-0 after 60 minutes.
Puni Skipps took the pitch for Haungatau and the fellow freshman made an immediate impact. The center poached the ball after Saher Hamdan – who again, was so good at stripping ballcarriers – took a pop pass into space for a nice break. Life penalties followed, a try was held up, then forward punches resumed after Lindenwood’s 5m scrum. After several attempts over the line, Gold called a play with Lali Lafitaga, who was recycling to the back of the ruck. Gold peeled off the base and Lafitaga sent the pass away from congestion. The scrumhalf committed two defenders from five meters out and hit Bailey through contact. The No. 8 powered through two defenders for the try, 44-0.
At the end of the game, Lindenwood worked the scrum in Life’s end and got into phases. The ball moved to Skipps, who considered the hip pass to Alia Ah Far, but tucked the ball and pushed off her opposite for the centered try. Caitlin Edwards added the conversion for the 51-0 win.
Both teams take a break this upcoming weekend, although that wasn’t the plan originally. Lindenwood was scheduled to play Penn State, but the Nittany Lions canceled the match. Lindenwood will resume with a road trip to Central Washington on March 20. Life had a scheduled bye week for March 13 but was supposed to host Penn State on March 20. Since that game’s been canceled, Davenport University has agreed to travel to Marietta, Ga., for a non-league game, and a combined Orlando / UCF team will play Life’s JV.
Stay tuned for player interviews.