Wisconsin pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat a very good Milwaukee Scylla 52-25 Saturday, ending its regular season 8-0. Midwest playoffs commence in two weeks, and while the reigning DII national champion is ready to test itself, the season has not focused on defending the title.
“No one has discussed it to be honest,” Wisconsin coach Bob Jafferis said. “It would be nice to go back [to the national final] but no one has put that forward to me as their motivation. We’re here for other things than winning a national title – it’s part of the philosophy of being a club and not just a team.”
This year’s team is different in that nine positional changes have been made since winning the DII title last June. Wisconsin started working through the kinks in the fall, going 7-0, and leaned on leading performances from players like tighthead prop Melissa Pohleber, No. 8 Grace Hovde, 2015 championship MVP Justine Wypych and former flanker Kristine Petersen, who has been very effective at scrumhalf.
A big winter recruitment effort injected some new talent into the squad, and captains Jenn Johnson and Emily Mastandrea did well to keep the team in shape while introducing new players. Saturday’s game was a nice re-introduction to competitive play, as Milwaukee Scylla led 15-14 after 32 minutes. Flyhalf Samantha Bruni was particularly effective in scoring two tries, while flanker Lori Haymon added the third.
Wisconsin was more successful off the tee, and its four first-half tries from Petersen, Wypych (2) and Hovde were buoyed by two Wypych conversions and a third from Hovde, 26-15 into the break.
“Milwaukee Scylla is a high-quality side, and the only reason people outside of the Midwest haven’t heard of them is that they’ve been unfortunate to run into us when we’re hot. We expected a good game from them,” Jafferis said. “In the second half, we relied on our pace a little better. They’re bigger than us – but everyone is bigger than us – and so we moved the ball out wide to some players who are productive.”
It was still a single-digit game into the fourth quarter, as Haymon scored her second and Scylla wing Chelsea Willes dotted down, but two more tries from Hovde (and three conversions) and scores from wing Felicia Carlson and outside center Breanna Valenza pushed out the differential, 52-25.
“I’m pretty satisfied with where we are at this point in the season. We put up a reasonable score against a very good team,” Jafferis said. “Comparisons are tough. It’s hard to say how good we are until the Midwest playoffs.”
Wisconsin should host the West 2 pool’s runner-up on April 30 for its Midwest quarterfinal. Scylla is also heading to post-season and should play the West 2 winner, County Will Morrigans (7-0-1). The two West victors will meet the two East victors in the Midwest championship, to be held May 7 in Lemont, Ill.