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MW Final Features Wisconsin Rivals

  • 09 May 2016

It was an all-Wisconsin final in the Midwest championship. /// Photo courtesy Wisconsin Women’s Rugby


First item on the agenda ticked: Wisconsin won the Midwest DII championship for an automatic berth to the national quarterfinals. As the team heals from a tough two-game weekend – one that pit the reigning national champion against its best competitor, Milwaukee Scylla – attention begins to turn to Pittsburgh, host of the eastern bracket’s Round of 8 knockouts on May 21-22.


Wisconsin advanced to the Midwest final four after defeating the Chicago Sirens 114-0 in the quarterfinals. The team didn’t travel with a full compliment of players, and depth of roster was an issue for semifinal opponent Buffalo as well. Wisconsin beat the East Division rep 100-5 for the berth to the final.


“I don’t know if the score does Buffalo justice,” Wisconsin coach Bob Jafferis said. “They were hitting hard, and we had players hurting Saturday night. So it wasn’t for a lack of effort on Buffalo’s part. They’re not a bad team and there’s a reason they’re in the tournament.”


On the other side of the bracket, Milwaukee Scylla bested County Will Morrigans 48-14 in the quarterfinals and Cincinnati 36-7 on Saturday. The finalists hail from the same western division, and on Sunday eyed each other from across the 50 for the third time this season.


“I think we have one of the toughest divisions in the nation. Twin Cities and the Menagerie are right there, so we have four teams that are all close to each other,” Jafferis explained. “Scylla is the best team you’ve never seen. They’re as good, if not better, than anyone we played last year [at nationals].”


The opening 20 minutes saw a flurry of action as the teams attempted to execute their nuanced game plans against a familiar opponent. Wisconsin got its first-quarter tries from flanker Samantha Clevenger, wing Felicia Carlson and outside center Breanna Valenza, while flyhalf Elisa Becker added two of her six conversions. Scylla saw inside center Abigail Williams score and add two conversions, and flanker Lori Haymon dot down. After 20 minutes, Wisconsin led 19-14.


Then, within eight minutes of each other, Wisconsin subbed out lock Jill Lehmann and prop Sarah Thomas for injuries.


“Our set pieces were good against a bigger team, but when we lost two tight five players, that threw off their rhythm,” Jafferis said. “Not that we didn’t replace them with high-quality players, but people were panicking. We had a frantic first half.”


Milwaukee kept pushing and put Samantha Bruni away for the go-ahead try before half. Williams’ conversion made it 21-19 to the Scylla at the break.


Wisconsin regained the lead during the first 10 minutes of the second half, scrumhalf Kristine Peterson and Carlson scored (33-21). True to reputation, Scylla spent the next 15 minutes matching its nemesis on the scoreboard, as prop Kerry Goss and wing Chelsea Willes notched tries, 33-all with 15 minutes remaining.


“Like the other [league] game, we took control in the last 20 minutes,” Jafferis said, as Wisconsin answered with two quick tries from wings Justine Wypych and Carlson, her third. “It boiled down to our speed against their power, and in the end, speed won.


“That’s typical for us,” the coach added. “We’re not going to overpower anyone. It’s no secret – anyone who talks about us says we’re fast on the outside and tiny.”


Carlson was particularly effective. Most memorably, the former collegiate sprinter cleaned up a mishandled kickoff and returned it for a 100-meter try.


“She’s just that fast,” Jafferis said.


Inside center Shannon Walsh had a good series of games. She was instrumental in keeping the squad work-oriented when the injury bug started to bite. She served as a solid power center and was able to generate offense from her defense. Flanker Lauren McCormack had a good weekend as well, as did usual suspects like No. 8 Grace Hovde and prop Melissa Polheber.


“We know we’ve got to do better,” Jafferis assessed the weekend. “I don’t think we played particularly well because Scylla took a lot away from us. They knew what to do against us and had the personnel to do it. We need to improve quite a bit in the two weeks before Pittsburgh.”


Wisconsin will play South champ Charlotte in the national quarterfinals and face either Burlington or Harrisburg on day two.



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