The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association (NIRA) held Division I, Division II and Division III semifinals on Saturday, and now the final match-ups are set. All six teams will report to Cambridge, Mass., for the Nov. 11 title matches, and they’ll be live-streamed on ESPN+.
For the third time in NIRA championship history, Dartmouth College and Harvard University will contest the Division I final. The Big Green won the previous two title matches in 2022 and 2018, and the Crimson won DI NIRA in 2019. When the two teams met in the regular season, Harvard triumphed 19-17.
Harvard took the top seed into the DI semifinals and hosted No. 4 Sacred Heart University in the Connecticut team’s first post-season appearance. Harvard went up 15-0 in the first half, sending Lennox London (2) and Charlotte Gilmour into the try zone. London and Tiahna Padilla kicked off the second-half scoring and with Chloe Headland’s extra, the home side had 27 points before Sacred Heart responded. The Pioneers got its five points through Caitlyn Caldon (27-5) but the rest of the scoring belonged to Harvard. Captain Elianne Sacher, Brogan Mior, Carly Lehman, PK Vincze and Gilmour put five points apiece on the scoreboard for the 60-5 win.
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Meanwhile, Dartmouth College beat #3 Quinnipiac University 38-8 in Hanover, N.H. The Bobcats scored first, after a nice dummy from freshman Bre Wertman set up Kat Storey for the corner try. But then Dartmouth answered with three-straight tries from freshman and USA U20 Cindy Taulava scored all three first-half tries for the Big Green, and Abbey Savin’s conversions put the home side up 21-5 into the break. Abby Kayser, Sia Meni and freshman Hehea Pulotu added second-half tries, and another Savin conversion brought the day’s total to 38. The Bobcats added a Fódhla Ní Bhraonáin penalty in the second half: 38-8.
“The team has shown incredible adaptability and resilience this year,” Dartmouth head coach Katie Dowty told dartmouthsports.com. “We’re a relatively young squad this year, which means our younger players are growing exponentially from week to week and I think there’s a chance we’re peaking at just the right time.
Each week they are learning to better exploit our strengths and find the opposition’s weakness. We’ll face an old foe next week, but we’re a new team and I’m excited for this group to have their shot at the championship.”
The DI final is 4 p.m. ET in Cambridge, Mass.
The DII final will feature 2022 returner Davenport University and first-timer Lander University. The two teams represent the farther-west (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and farthest-south (Greenwood, S.C.) teams in NIRA, across all divisions.
It was senior day for Davenport University, so some players got a rest as the graduating class got their minutes against West Chester Univ. on Saturday. The Panthers won 117-3 in front of a hometown crowd. Freshmen Carrie Coyer-Westerberg (5), Leilani Lepe (4), Marla Aymond (2), Nala Mayorga, Abby Zurek and Rachel Wilkie scored tries, while upperclassmen Ashley Cowdrey (2), Ashleigh McLane, Jasmine Hernandez and Anise Tuia also dotted down. Aubrey Crist connected on 10/14 conversions and Lepe added two points as well.
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On the other side of the bracket, American International College traveled from Springfield, Mass., to Greenwood, S.C., for its semifinal against Lander. The Bearcats took an early lead when freshman Sam Tripi scored eight minutes in. Bella Gullatta, who transferred from Notre Dame College, added the conversion for a 7-0 lead that lasted most of the first half. Just before the break, SacPAL Amazons product Noa Lagilagi broke through the defense for AIC’s try, and fellow freshman Camryn Henderson (Riverdale, Tenn.) converted for the 7-7 tie into the break.
Defense sang in this battle, and it was a penalty in the 63rd minute that was the difference on the scoreboard. Gullatta hit the three-pointer for Lander, sealing a 10-7 victory and first-ever berth to the DII final.
Davenport and Lander met in the regular season, with the Panthers traveling to South Carolina for the mid-September meeting. The Panthers won that match 66-6. Their final kicks off at 1:30 p.m. ET in Cambridge, Mass.
Bowdoin College is the only champion that NIRA’s Division III has ever known, and the Polar Bears booked another final’s berth after a 61-7 semifinal win against Norwich Univ. Senior Lauryn Eisenhart led all scorers with 31 on three tries and eight conversions. Kyra Bishop and freshman Mia Daoust also dotted down, and first-year Stella Johnson logged her first try as a Polar Bear. The Brunswick, Maine, team is undefeated at the championship stage but for the first time in the competitions history, Bowdoin is not facing Univ. New England in the final.
In its first NIRA 15s season, Adrian College is heading to the DIII trophy match. The Michigan team met Univ. New England of Biddeford, Maine., in Alfred, N.Y., for the teams’ semifinal. When they faced each other in the regular season, it was a 26-26 draw, and it took 15 minutes before the semifinal scoreboard alit. Freshman Paige Longcore did the honors and provided Adrian with the 5-0 lead.
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The Bulldogs suffered a yellow card disadvantage as the half neared, and the Nor’easters took advantage with a try to tie it up, 5-all. Crucially, Adrian scored on either side of the break, to both claim momentum into halftime and re-establish flow in the second half. Junior Erin Clay and Longcore dotted down and Madison Williamson added the first conversion, 17-5.
The try-trading resumed, as UNE added its second score (17-10), but then Adrian went back-to-back into the try zone and added both conversions through Williamson. Ariel Rathell and Madisyn McDonald dotted down the Bulldogs’ tries and sealed a 31-10 win and berth to the final.
Bowdoin and Adrian did meet in the regular season, and the Polar Bears won 43-12. Their rematch will occur Saturday, Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. ET.