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Sabres Bring Higher Expectations to Texas

  • 16 May 2019

St. Louis is the three-time reigning DII Mid-America (and thus Frontier) champion and returns to the Western Regional Championship as the highest-ranked team. Last year, the Sabres fell short of Charlotte, now in DI, in the DII national championship, and now the process begins again with a trip to Austin this weekend.

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“Our expectation of success is higher since we achieved exposure at the national level,” St. Louis coach Amy Holtsclaw asserted. “Most players have returned, and we have gained some experienced players who have moved to St. Louis.”

Like most teams and leagues, St. Louis plays a split season. In the fall, the Sabres were missing several key players, which allowed rookies more field time and saw one forward relocate to the back line.

“It was a good experience to see how we could come together and fight through the challenge,” Holtsclaw reflected on the 2-1 fall.

The spring was less fruitful. An important tournament – the one the team typically uses for player development and testing new strategies – was postponed. Two league games were rescheduled and a third canceled last minute.

“Rescheduling matches affected player availability, resulting in a lack of roster consistency,” Holtsclaw explained. “While challenging, that did force the players to become more adaptable, but, ultimately, our spring schedule did not give us the number of matches for which we hoped. We have had to move some players around to train in different positions, so it would have been helpful to have a little more time on the pitch.”

St. Louis won its two spring fixtures to finish 4-1 in the regular season and advanced to Mid-America semifinals as the second seed. The Sabres lined up against Omaha, and the last time these squads met, St. Louis won 7-0.

In the rematch, however, St. Louis beat the Goats 65-5. Fullback Alexandra Cole and outside center Dominesha Newton scored two tries apiece. Grace Hovde, Mandy Smith, Anna Savage and Brittany David accounted for the forward scores, while Jolene Steibel, Sloane Hecimovich, Sarah Wheeling and Anna Albrecht dotted down for the backs. Hecimovich added five conversions and Albrecht one.

That set up a rematch against St. Louis’ only loss of the season, KC Jazz, for the Mid-America title and berth to DII nationals.

“For the final, we had to change up the roster due to injuries from Saturday’s match against Omaha,” Holtsclaw noted. “We took a chance, and it worked. We saw the best from all players who entered the pitch, and we needed that.”

St. Louis triumphed 36-10 and got tries from Albrect (2), Hovde, props Whitney Smith (2) and Jennifer Pautz. Hecimovich and Albrecht kicked the extras.

The Sabres head to Austin for the DII Club Western Regional Championship this weekend and face the hometown Valkyries in the first round. The victor will then play the winner of Sacramento and Las Vegas for a berth to the national final in Ohio.

“Austin has been a consistently competitive team for many years,” Holtsclaw drew upon personal experience, “and I believe they will test us. For this weekend, we cannot afford to give up the ball in contact. I see that Austin is very good at double-tackling and stripping the ball, and we simply cannot allow that.

“Additionally, our defense needs to be solid,” the coach concluded. “We have a very talented team, but like I said earlier, we’ve not had much opportunity for everyone to work together consistently so the chemistry will need to come together for us to win the weekend.”

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