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NCR National Championships Set for Sunday

  • 04 Dec 2022
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Marquette rugby

All three of the National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) women’s 15s competitions are at the national championship stage, and after Saturday’s Small College and Division II semifinals, the Sunday title matches are now set. The Small College National Championship is at 10 a.m. CDT, followed by the DII title match at 12 p.m., and then the Division I trophy match closes out the weekend at 2 p.m. inside Houston’s AVEVA Stadium. All games live-stream on NCR’s YouTube channel.

 

Lee Rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

Saturday was for semifinals, and Small College’s Lee Univ. (Tenn.) and College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) kicked off the day. The Flames’ back line played with a lot of pace, connection and confidence, and sent leading passes that put each other into space. They accounted for eight of the team’s nine tries in the 59-0 win, while prop Kate Faulk rumbled over the whitewash to nab one for the pack. Flyhalf Siena Macy, fullback Logyn Shollenberger and centers Alena Seaquist and Ava Zopf scored two tries apiece. Macy kicked seven conversions to lead the team 24 points.

Scholastica caused problems in spurts, and Lee’s tackling consistency wavered when players like Navah Swoverland, Marre Welinski and Mikayla McCullough got the ball. But overall the Lee defense stood up.

 

St. Scholastica rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

“That was a big thing for us,” senior captain Macy said of the shutout. “Midway through our season we kind of turned around our mentality on defense. We were really struggling at first, just getting our confidence in our hits. And then every practice we were working on double tackles – nobody should be tackling alone – and that made a big difference this game. We had a few breaks but then our 15 [Shollenberger] cleaned it up, and the hustle to get back was a lot better this game.”

Lee will have to bring the hustle when it faces Endicott College in the Sunday final, as the Gulls showed a lot of heart in beating a tough Northern Michigan 31-19 in the semifinals. A conversion separated the teams at half, and Endicott ended the game with 14 players on the pitch, but a gritty performance produced the win.

 

Endicott rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

Northern Michigan piled on the pressure in the opening five minutes, crossing the line twice but unable to ground the ball. Endicott gave itself a little room with its second goal-line dropout and then outside center Grace Kenkel surprised everyone with an intercept try, which Tess Merrill converted.

Northern Michigan responded with a long attacking series, impressing with the number of phases it was able to piece together. But it was the patient, opportunistic defense that won in the end. Peyton Gilson poached possession and Sarah Aylwin tore away for the long-range score: 14-0 with Merrill’s conversion.

 

Northern Michigan rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

Northern Michigan clawed to within two points, sending flanker Morgan Goss into the try zone from close range, followed by freshman back Ginny Harris, who snapped the outside defense for a longer-range score. The Gulls held a tenuous 14-12 lead into the break.

“We talked about keeping composure and coming up hard on defense once they score,” Endicott captain Cassidy McElhinney said of halftime chatter. “Just stay in the game and have each other’s back.”

Endicott did a really good job of getting over the ball and disrupting Northern Michigan’s possession. When penalties arose, it was flanker Jourdan VanAmburgh quick-tapping through the mark and eating up meters. In the third quarter, flyhalf Kaitlyn Quinn and fullback Jess Parkinson scored, pushing out the lead to 26-12. Both teams scored once more – freshman prop Addi Curran for Northstar Rugby and Aylwin again for Endicott (while the team was down to 14 players) in the 31-19 decision.

 

Marquette rugby

Northern Michigan rugby

 

The Division II semifinals followed, and Wayne State College and Marquette picked up the physicality standard without interruption. The two teams absolutely hammered each other for the opening 20 minutes, with neither side breaking through on the scoreboard. But some untidy breakdown work and a slowly spreading defense saw Marquette take advantage out wide for wing Bridget Clark to score.

Most of the first half was played in the Wildcats’ end and that territory paid off with a few minutes left in the half. Outside center Colleen Rooney scored and Frankie Ingram knocked over the extras for the 12-0 lead at the break.

 

Marquette rugby

Northern Michigan rugby

 

Both teams kept pushing through the second half and Wayne State College played a lot of defense. Freshman Malori Swenson was absolutely relentless in the tackle, and senior Jordan Kocian put in the hit of the day, chasing down a would-be try with a diving tackle. But the fatigue started to show and with 15 minutes to go, Marquette captain Brielle Ebben just powered through contact for a try, 17-0. The scoreline held through regulation and Marquette booked a spot in the DII final.

“We knew they were going to be a bigger team so we really wanted to focus on our defensive line and getting in the best shape we could,” Ebben said of game-time focus. “And we’ve had a lot of injuries this year and a lot of girls couldn’t make the trip. We had to switch around a lot of players, so getting them comfortable in new positions that they had to learn super quick – I’m just really proud of how it turned out.”

 

UWEC rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

Marquette will face UW Eau Claire in the DII national championship, and the game is a rematch of the Great Waters conference final from approximately a month ago. The Wisconsin team faced Roger Williams in the semifinals, and they went toe-to-toe for the first 15 minutes. And then a big Abbey Jacobs run set up an opportunity for Eau Claire flanker Julia Bancroft to score. Minutes later, some really lovely leading passes in the backs put wing Cerys Ridd into the try zone, and Izzy Currie’s conversion put Eau Claire up 12-0.

It looked like Roger Williams was going to score right before the break, but then Kloee Chamberlain went for a long-range run that ended in the opposite try zone. Currie’s conversion gave Eau Claire the 19-0 lead into the break.

 

UWEC rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan

 

The Hawks had to play a lot of defense, and players like flanker Casey Dunbar and outside center Sarah Gray never eased on their launch or tilt into contact. But the team defense did start to sit back, and Eau Claire pounced. Five tries followed in the second half. Of note, the forwards dotted down a driving maul off a lineout, and Emma Hamilton chased down a Lauren Lawston kick that fortuitously bounced into the fullback’s hands for a speedy try. Eau Claire won 46-0.

“It feels like everyone has put in their individual work, from the seniors to the rookies, and it’s amazing to see it all pay off,” Eau Claire co-captain Jacobs said. “It just feels like it comes together on the field so well.”

“Excited, confident,” fellow captain and outside center Becky Kasprzak said of facing Marquette again. “We defeated them 29-0 [in the Great Waters championship], but that still doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to show up and act like the game’s 0-0. Act like we’ve never played them before.”

The 3rd place games occur on Field 1 starting at 9 a.m. CDT. The national championships begin at 10 a.m. CDT inside AVEVA Stadium.

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