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Preview: NCR Small College Nationals

  • 01 Dec 2022
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RUGBY

National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) holds its women’s 15s national championships this weekend in Houston, Texas. The entire organization flows into these competitions, so there are no fall and spring champions – just national champions. All but the consolation games occur in AVEVA Stadium and will be live-streamed on NCR’s YouTube Channel.

NCR previews all three championships here and the following includes links to features on the individual semifinalists. See the full slate of U.S., college and club all-star fixtures for the weekend here.

SMALL COLLEGE

St. Scholastica is the newcomer to the semifinals and brings that wild card energy to Houston. Coaches Greg White and Tyler Selleck have watched with joy as the Minnesota squad has grown in confidence all fall. The duo attributes the growth to players participating at the higher levels and also a Northern Lights hybrid league that provided DII competition. The team got a real good look at itself when it battled back against Univ. Chicago in the national quarterfinals, and will apply that knowledge to its semifinal against Lee Univ. Saturday. But however the trip to Texas plays out, one is excited for Scholastica, because participating in nationals forever alters a team’s perspective on the breadth and width of the rugby world.

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Lee Univ. has had a comparable build this fall in that it has retooled its approach to the game to reflect the player pool this year. Head coach Chris Martin described a more cerebral team this fall, one whose main concern is the size of the opposition. But the trip to Culpepper, Va., for the Round of 16/8 was an important outing, as the Flames stood up to the stout competition that was St. Bonaventure and then East Stroudsburg the following day. Look for captain Siena Macy to lead from flyhalf. The senior is perhaps the most experienced player in the Small College division, having played internationally with the USA South, and is a superb leader for a program with a long history of deep playoff runs.

Endicott College arrives at the national semifinals with arguably the toughest playoff pathway behind it. The Colonial Coast champ hosted the Northeast Regional Championships beat a tough Colby College 27-14 to start the weekend. The following day, 2021 national runner-up SUNY Cortland awaited in the quarterfinals. After trailing 22-19 at half, Endicott responded with two tries and a conversion and held that 31-22 lead until eight minutes remaining in the match. Cortland had the gas for one more try, but it was the Gulls defense that had the final say: 31-27 the final. Read more. Lots of good energy in the squad but look for senior captain Cassidy McElhinney to lead the way and sophomore standout Tess Merrill to impress from the backfield.

Like Lee, Northern Michigan is a repeat nationals contender, returning from a 3rd place finish in 2021. But Northstar Rugby is different this year – for all the obvious reasons – but also for the confidence they’ve gleaned from last year’s run.

“They’re not surprised to be there, or lucky to win,” Northern Michigan head coach Tina Nesberg compared the change in mentality since last year’s nationals run. “They work hard to get the results they want. Don’t get me wrong, they worked hard last year, too. But now they’re not trying to prove anything to anyone but themselves.”

Kaitlyn Bammel and Bianca Rosales captain the squad, while Rachel Placeway is a hub of leadership as president. The team enriched its confidence during regionals, where Northern Michigan beat Calvin College (Mich.) 64-0 and then York College (Pa.) 49-5 on back-to-back days. Those games occurred in snowy conditions but that won’t be the case in Houston, which is forecasting cloudy but 80-degree temperatures.

UP NEXT: DIVISION II

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