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Raleigh Rebounds in MAC Final

  • 10 May 2016

Raleigh just edged NOVA in the final. /// Photo courtesy Raleigh Venom Rugby 


It wasn’t a complete performance, but Raleigh got the job done. In its first season back in division one, the Venom won the Mid-Atlantic championship after a 32-0 semifinal victory over Philadelphia and then 12-10 title win over NOVA. Raleigh has reserved its spot in the DI national quarterfinals and will face Boston in Pittsburgh on May 21.


Raleigh was the better team in its semifinal against Philadelphia, but the Venom didn’t exert consistent pressure throughout the full 80 minutes. Jennifer Larrimore, Tonya Fletcher, Brielle Mayle, Janee Cadlett and Mauela Wingord-Zavalla scored first-half tries, and Chelsea Garber’s conversion gave Raleigh a 27-0 halftime lead.  


“We made it tougher than we should have,” Raleigh coach Mike Lee said. “They hadn’t played Philly before, so they respected them when they came in and played tough for the first 15-20 minutes. Then they thought it would be an easy game and throttled back. Philly picked it up pretty intensely. They know how to play; it’s just getting them into the mental attitude to do it.”


Garber added a final try in the 71st minute for the 32-0 win.


“They knew they let themselves down,” the coach said of post-match reactions. “Everybody struggled in the second half. It should have been an easy game, but everyone had to work and we weren’t able to give more time to our subs.”


Meanwhile, NOVA defeated Pittsburgh 51-5 and had the right kind of momentum heading into the final. Outside center Kathryn Hemlock scored three tries, while Lauren Hoeck, Katie Sullivan, Emily Blease, Rachael Holderle and Brianna Kim also scored. Flanker Rachel Primo kicked three conversions and a penalty.


“I was not looking forward to playing them a third time – that’s usually the tough one [to win],” Lee confessed. “NOVA was much improved and they were prepared for us. They were also mentally determined not to be beaten and initially took it to us.”


The NOVA forwards were key in establishing a fast pace. They out-rucked Raleigh in the first half and used their quick ball. Raleigh did well to counter NOVA, but was a little slower, more methodical with the ball. The scrums were even, but NOVA held the advantage in the lineout, which were generally difficult in the influential wind.


It took 30 minutes for the scoreboard to light up, but NOVA wing Stephanie Barros did the honors, turning the corner for the half’s lone try.


“At halftime we talked about being driven off the ball and I told them, ‘If you want to continue on, then you’ve got to get lower and play the way you need to play,’” Lee recounted. “They took control in the second half and maintained possession much better. We just had a hard time breaking their line and couldn’t gain advantage kicking into the wind.”


One minute into the second half, wing Holly Zoeller put Raleigh on the board with a try. Fifteen minutes later, wing Janee Cadlett broke some tackles and went 40 meters for the score. Garber made the all-important conversion to lead 12-5 at the end of the third quarter.


In the closing minute, NOVA sub Holderle scored but the conversion missed for the 12-10 final.


“Hopefully we learned some lessons this weekend, but I make no promises,” Lee said. “I’ve been preaching the same things for the last month – more power and lower body position in the rucks – and they didn’t play at all that way against NOVA until the second half. They need to be on all of the time.”


Lee indicated that much of the fluctuation is a consequence of younger players. He pointed to centers Larrimore and Jessica Meidinger for playing consistently over the weekend and setting an example.


“They had outstanding games and are the strength of our club,” Lee praised. “Chelsea keeps it all together, but we would struggle without those two. They throw the ball around well and keep it under control. And they do a good job on defense.”


Raleigh is eager to get to nationals. Bad timing saw the Venom struggle in its first attempt in DI several years ago, and 2015-16 marks the team’s return. The squad has something to prove at the next level.


“We’re looking forward to Pittsburgh and Boston, and the opportunity to see what we can do,” Lee said. “This was the first time in a while that we had a good game. We had to work for the full match and we don’t get too many opportunities to do that. We need more games like that.”


NOVA isn’t out of the picture either. The Virginia side must travel to Boston to face Northeast runner-up Beantown this Saturday, and the victor will take the 8th seed at Pittsburgh and face Midwest champ Chicago North Shore.


Click here for the full DI bracket.


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