The National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) 15s championship weekend began with the Small College semifinals, and the first knockout pit St. Bonaventure University against 2022 national champion Endicott College. The Bonnies triumphed 22-10.
“We prepared for this game for weeks, building off that big win against Lee [in the quarterfinals],” St. Bonaventure outside center Kyla Nentarz said. “We just wanted to stick to our plan, use our backs and forwards like we know how to play, and use everyone on the field.”
The center pairing of Nentarz and McKenna Ramsey was truly dynamic, but crux of the Bonnies’ game rested on the steady, deliberate work of the forwards. Powerful ballcarriers like Jaylei Wagstaff and Jillian Rea were tough to take down on the first attempt, and Nentarz called out the big presence of Abby Beres and the support work of Olivia Reeves and Kaylee Vincent.
But Endicott did quite well absorbing the attack. The Gulls were patient in defense, waiting for a good moment to poach, but did not exit well out of their end. The kick was not on and errors while trying to run out of the 22 cost the Gulls territory. With that said, when Endicott did connect the passes, the phases linked so quickly and the team moved the ball with exciting pace.
Prop Katie Paterson and flanker Mia Popp scored first-half tries for Bonaventure, and a conversion from Nentarz made it 12-0. Toward the end of the half, Carolina Stubbs scored for Endicott. The No. 8 and captain is such an important force on the field, especially when there is a lot of defense to play. She took a lower-leg injury early in the second half, and her absence was felt.
Fullback Tess Merrill pulled her side to within two points, dotting down a try in the corner, 12-10, but then Ramsey restored the point differential with a try of her won, 17-10. At the 60-minute mark, the hard-charging Nentarz dotted down the final score of the game, 22-10.
“It’s an incredible feeling, especially when you know you just have to run through some people to get to the try line,” Nentarz said of scoring in a national semifinal. “It’s amazing, especially celebrating with my team.”
With the win, St. Bonaventure will now play UW Platteville in Sunday’s national championship. The Great Waters team beat SUNY Cortland 31-5 in Saturday’s semifinal and deployed a hard, fast game that the Peace Frogs struggled to subdue. In the middle of it all were co-captains Selena “Crusher” Bodendein, who was massive in the tackle and counter-ruck, and scrumhalf Zoe Barnes, who had the best pass in the tournament and released a really dangerous back line. The duo indicated that the team was pretty connected from the get-go.
“I think the pivotal moment of our game was when our staring winger, Ali Risly went out and we were to just pull somebody off our reserves and didn’t skip a beat. We were that in unison. And that’s what led us here to today. In that moment, it was, ‘Oh yeah, we got this.’”
Platteville scored 31 points before Cortland responded, and three of those five tries went to wing Taylor Brink. Both Brink and fullback Sydney Kaluzny, who also scored in the first half, displayed great pace and the ability to shake off tacklers. Bodendein kicked three conversions on the day. The sixth try went to prop Grace Wihelmi, while cortland snapped the shutout through wing Sydney Koniczany. The Peace Frogs weren’t without – their scrum in particular was a mark of strength and the center pairing of Yasmin Valerio and Jill Underhill is special – but the team just played a lot of defense.
UW Platteville is especially excited to see Bonaventure in the final. The two met during the CRC 7s last year.
“Due to weather, things were unfortunately cut short, and ironically it was a tie with Bonaventure, who we’ll be playing in the championship, that sent us home,” Barnes said. “So we’re really happy to have this redemption and honor those who graduated and given their blood, sweat and tears these three, four years.”
The final will live-stream at 12 p.m. CT on The Rugby Network.