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NIRA’s 3 National Champs Crowned

  • 17 Nov 2019

The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) has concluded its 2019 season, for the first time in the organization’s history, it has named three national champions: Harvard University (Tier I), West Chester University (Tier II) and Bowdoin College (Division III).

The day began with the first-ever Division III final between Bowdoin and the University of New England, two teams that have featured in and won the Tier II title before there was a DIII. The Nor’easters took the first lead as power center Mariah Chase used the extra space off the lineout to take an angled run at the defense and slip through. Chase linked with Katie Berger on the sideline and the wing finished in the corner for a try after one minute.

Bowdoin leaned on big carries from its forwards, notably championship MVP Safiya Osei, to commit the defense and then spun the ball wide to its wily speed. Wing Molly Petronzio did an excellent job of taking that final pass and finishing in the try zone for two scores (she also kicked a conversion), while sophomore fullback Sophia Karris did well to create her own opportunities. From a midfield scrum that was skittering backward, the ball went to the deeply set fullback, who switched fields and then stepped the defense for a 50-meter try. Karris repeated the feat minutes later for two tries on the day.

A lovely driving maul off the lineout put Bowdoin in position for a fifth try, and flanker Amber Ramos took advantage of some lax defense on the fringe to dart 10 meters for the try.

Bowdoin led 22-5 at halftime and UNE put in a much stronger show in the second half, but the attack had a tendency to run laterally, and the Polar Bear defense didn’t budge. Ashlynn Autrey and Catherine Patti led the team in tackles. Stay tuned for interview with Bowdoin head coach MaryBeth Mathews.

Heather Spangler crash / Photo: Doreen Madalian

West Chester completed its undefeated season with its first Tier II national championship, and the title was especially cherished considering the massive comeback required against Brown University.

The Bears went up 14-0 in the first half, as powerful ballcarriers like Erin Jessop, Zy Thomas, Abby O’Keefe and Mahdia Parker got West Chester scrambling backward and into penalty trouble. Olivia Duba did an excellent job of launching a fast, connected attack, and converted Thomas’ try 11 minutes in. Approximately 10 minutes later, Jessop broke through and a high-tackle penalty on the five-meter awarded a penalty try.

The Golden Rams still played with a little desperation early in the second half, trying to do too much with every carry rather than settling into a pattern, but a try in the 47th minute saw the Pennsylvania squad loosen up. A maul through the center of the pitch saw the defense pinch in, and even though the outlet pass hit the ground, it was well cleaned up and moved to Laura Madalian sprinting into space. The fullback lined up the covering defense and time the pass to Corinne Gallagher for the try: 14-5.

West Chester layered on the pressure and a superb Kylie Corless kick deep into Brown’s territory. The chase was on and although Harvard held onto the ball, that territory soon paid off. A turnover followed and inside center Haley Spangler finished off the drive with a try: 14-10.

Minutes later, West Chester cleanly fielded a Duba clearance kick and counter-attacked with quickly, moving the ball to center Autumn Czaplicki for the corner try: 15-14.

There were still 15 minutes to play and Brown was able to spend quality time in West Chester’s end. The Bears were ruthless in the breakdowns, vigorous in their attempts to turn over possession. But the Golden Rams did a tremendous job remaining calm and were led, like they were all game, by Juah Toe. Brown grew frustrated and relinquished penalties to stymie a final comeback. West Chester held on for the win and national title.

Harvard also needed a comeback effort against the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) during the Tier I National Championship, and organized a lead change midway through the second half en route to a first title.

It took approximately 20 minutes for the scoreboard to light up and in that time Harvard looked the more spritely. Alex DiMarco drove a good kicking game and consistent carries from leaders like Gio Ferguson Lewis and Nicole Wantlin put Army in good attacking position. Army drew a penalty and was held up in its first running attempt over the line, but the reset saw the ball move wide to Damaria Morton for the try, which McKenzie Borchers converted: 7-0.

Harvard found some consistency in the final 10 minutes of the half and started threatening deep in Army’s end. The ball moved to Sofie Fella, who forewent her unmarked teammates out wide for a cutting run back inside and offload to Alex Pipkin, Milan Roberts’ injury replacement. From five meters out, No. 8 Robyn Beese barreled over the line for the try, 7-5 into the break.

The team battled for the lead during the third quarter and no score evolved, but the advantage started to tip in Harvard’s direction. Inside center Brogan Mior was fantastic, not only doing work with ball in hand, but sending clutch clearance kicks and planting try-saving tackles. Erin Wright also had a great day, gaining north-south meters and setting up teammates with nicely time passes.

Now playing against the wind, a DiMarco kick didn’t make touch and Harvard countered through Lucy Jacobsen, who ripped through the reorganizing defense for a break to the seven meter. Army coughed up a not-releasing penalty while attempting to turn over the ball and the Crimson smartly lined up the centered kick for three points, courtesy of Mior, 8-7 Harvard.

As the game waged on and cutting wind and snow took its toll, the game loosened up a bit with passes hitting the ground and some flattening of the attack. Delia Hellander did well to the run her side upfield, taking the pass from the scrum on the run and slicing through. The flyhalf was pulled down just short but the recycle moved to prop Achele Agada, who powered over: 13-7 with fewer than 10 to play.

Army striker Sam Sullivan didn’t have much opportunity to run with ball in hand but the fullback did team up with Morton out side for a break that had all the makings of a runaway try. Mior cleaned it up and a penalty ensued, taking some vigor out of the Army attack. As the game wore down and the Black Knights attempted to run out of their end, a clearance kick didn’t find touch and Harvard took advantage. The ball moved wide to Mior, who sucked in the final two defenders and then hit Dom Cantave out wide. The wing put a nice step on her opposite for the corner try: 18-7 the final.

Stay tuned for coach and/or player interviews.


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