Chico’s Westfall and Pena are a dangerous duo. / Photo: Jackie Finlan
The western portion of the USA Rugby DI College Spring Championship occurs Friday-Saturday, April 19-20, in Irvine, Calif., and the eastern portion occurs Saturday-Sunday in Greenville, N.C. The two teams that go 2-0 on the weekend will advance to the spring final on May 4 in Matthews, N.C.
RELATED: See the DI bracket
BYU vs. Stanford
BYU realigned from the DI Elite to Division I this season, and the Cougars have to be the favorite for that fact alone. The Cougars played a good amount of games in the fall, and the most important fixture of the spring occurred on March 8: a 42-12 loss to DI Elite Central Washington in Ellensburg. Head coach Tom Waqa talked about that loss and how it incentivized an uptick in the players’ drive.
BYU didn’t have the best of spring build-ups competition wise, but this scenario is nothing new to the Provo, Utah, program. The team always shows up, eager to play some meaningful rugby. Grace Taito, Lora Gubler and Elle Peterson are all experienced, pace-setting forwards, and the backs feature expert finishers in Alisa Baker and Kainoa Ah Quinn. Freshman Matalasi Morrissette has been holding down flyhalf, and we’re hoping the West End, Va., product gets the nod during playoffs.
Jett Hayward / Alex Ho photo
Stanford finished second in the Pacific Mountain conference and is about 15 minutes short of playing a very thorough game. The Cardinal surged in the waning moments against UC Davis to beat the Aggies for the berth to regionals, and then fatigue set in against Chico State on day two of the conference playoffs, and the Wildcats kept driving for the top seed. Jett Hayward talks about the toll of two tough games in two days, but also the resiliency of the team to regroup.
Hayward, Maili Yee and Anna Park are knockouts in the pack, and freshman Leilani Mendoza is already a poised scrumhalf, eager to deploy those hard, mobile forwards on quick taps. Fullback Nicole Edsall has a knack for the line-break and was the team’s best finisher during playoffs.
Chico State vs. UC Santa Barbara
We’re anticipating an interesting game. Last year, the Gauchos lost handily to the Pacific Mountain teams, and coach Zac Winter talks about the adjustments that have been in terms of preparing for the uptick in physicality during the post-season. After edging 2018 Pacific Desert champion Grand Canyon by three points during the regular season, UCSB followed with a more convincing 43-14 victory for the league title.
Carolyn Gallays-Stapor, Jasmine Guevara and Miranda Nillo are the heart of the team, while captains Naomi Carrillo and Molly Yoon, lead the back and forward performances, respectively. Lauren Thunen is a capped 7s Eagle and exerts finishing force on the wing.
Chico’s Becky Luedke / Photo: Alex Ho
Chico State is different this year, too, but as No. 8 Becky Luedke explained, the team is getting comfortable with the new dynamics. The forward will be familiar, and Luedke is especially adept at getting the game moving ahead and linking with the support. Vanessa Somoza and Jen Brissenden, who was nursing an injury during the Pacific Mountain playoffs, are also difference-makers in the pack.
Hannah Westfall is the lynchpin. She kicks, she line-breaks, she follows, she’s important to Chico’s game. She, too, played just one game during conference playoffs. Alyssa Pena is also an exciting back-three player, who looks for work around the pitch and has nice finishing speed.
The Wildcats have recent history on their side; they know exactly what it takes to get through a brutal double-header weekend. The Gauchos are the underdogs, which is a good place to be mentally. This is the game to watch.