Stanford University defeated UC Davis 36-17 during the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference (PMRC) semifinals and thus advance to the USA Rugby DI College Spring Championship quarterfinals in Irvine, Calif., on Friday-Saturday, April 19-20. The Cardinal will play Chico State, which defeated Oregon State in its PMRC semifinal, for seeds into the regional playoffs.
The semifinal between Stanford and UC Davis marked the third time these two teams saw each other this season, and heading into the post-season, the Aggies were 2-0. The previous game was contested more than a month ago and came down to two points.
The opening 10 minutes of the conference semifinal saw both sides miss out on scoring opportunities – but in the most dramatic fashion. A turnover and then a big return swapped the flow of play quickly, and it was one of these exchanges that set up the first score. Davis wing Kat Thompson kicked downfield and the ball trickled into Stanford’s try zone. The chase was on, and fullback Nicole Edsall, the MVP of the match, opted to run the ball out, through traffic. The gamble paid off as she broke into Davis’ end. Aggies fullback Prai Harris halted the breakaway try but the Stanford support was there for an Anna Park score in the corner, 5-0.
Stanford had the opportunity to keep building but a waterfall of penalties, mostly in and around the breakdown, followed and Davis made good use of the extra ball. When the Cardinal stayed on their feet and onsides, they did well to poach possession, and frustrated the Davis’ continuity. But first, the Aggies got the ball to its best finisher – Harris, who scored the team’s first try, 5-5 after 20 minutes.
Stanford lost a valuable player – flanker Seneca Friend for 10 minutes – and more discipline issues piled on. After sustained pressure at the line, a held-up try and then offsides penalty allowed Davis flanker Ashley Alvarez-Murillo to score, 12-5 with the conversion.
Stanford spent the last couple of minutes attacking in Davis’ end, and kept that whistle from sounding by drawing a couple of penalties. After one scrum ended in a held-up try, the second scrum attempted to drive over the line and a drew a penalty in the process for the seven-point score, 12-all into the break.
Much of that second quarter was played in Stanford’s end and the Cardinal had to clean up its penalty count if it was going to content with Davis. The home side got the boost it needed as a long Edsall break nearly turned into a try if it weren’t for Harris’ pursuit tackle on the two meter. Park picked up and was held up over the line, but the five-meter scrum set up prop Jett Hayward for the score, 17-12.
The injury bug started to snip at Davis, and by game’s end, Harris moved to flyhalf, Thompson to scrumhalf, and inside center Gabby Rich to flanker. They did fantastic jobs in these positions but the Aggies’ best backs were now disconnected.
Stanford’s Friend had a nice break along the sideline and hooker Kimberly Juarez-Rico put a lovely in-and-out move on the wing to gain more meters. Eventually the ball made its way to Edsall for Stanford’s fourth try, 22-12.
Near the 20-minute mark, Thompson stepped into nine and from her first successful scrum, peeled around the back and split the defense with ease. She tore into the open field, hit Harris in support, and the fullback-turned-flyhalf found wing Faith Amory to finish the sprint to the try line, 22-17.
The Cardinal kept applying pressure in the scrum and breakdowns, and that forced mistakes. The home side grew in strength and pep during the final 10 minutes and put Friend away after several well connected phases, 29-17. The game ended with a penalty try, as wing Ash Seth was halted just short of the line with a high tackle, 36-17 the final.
The PMRC receives two seeds to the DI spring regional playoffs, but that doesn’t mean that Sunday’s final between Stanford and Chico State lacks value. USA Rugby has not yet released the seeds and brackets for the DI spring regional playoffs, but the most likely scenario is that the PMRC champion will play the Pacific South champion (determined April 6-7) in the spring quarterfinals, and the PMRC runner-up will face BYU. In other words, there’s incentive to win Sunday’s final.
1 Tatiana Balabanis, 2 Kimberly Juarez-Rico, 3 Jett Hayward, 4 Samantha Els, 5 Annika Hansen, 6 Alyssa Yee, 7 Seneca Friend, 8 Anna Park, 9 Leilani Mendoza, 10 Dakota Bailey-Van Kuren, 11 Kara Herson, 12 Avery Tallman, 13 Kennedy Kidd, 14 Ash Seth, 15 Nicole Edsall
Reserves: 16 Sierra Knudsen, 17 Justine Colvin, 18 Arielle Williams, 21 Olivia Tayback, 22 Sarah Egan, 23 Isis Anderson
1 Kaili Barnes, 2 Kiana Young, 3 Sabrina Perez, 4 Alli Permann, 5 Mitch Burke, 6 Elena Topete, 7 Ashley Alvarez-Murillo, 8 Lupe Ruiz, 9 Elisa Klentzi, 10 Katie Quijas, 11 Kat Thompson, 12 Gabby Rich, 13 Sallie Hollingshead, 14 Faith Amory, 15 Prai Harris.
Reserves: 16 Lesley Campos, 17 Marlena Sanchez, 18 Zea Roth-Sisley, 19 Idette de la Torre, 20 Anna Wilson, 21 Hannah Lehman, 22 Katrina He, 23 Addison Montgomery