Ventura’s Julie Gould scored two tries against San Fernando Valley. /// Photo courtesy Ventura Women’s Rugby
Southern California’s DII club championship will come down to Tucson’s O.P. Lightning and Ventura. The pair defeated their respective semifinal opponents on Saturday, as Lightning bettered visiting Fullerton 20-7, and the Outlaws traveled to San Fernando Valley for a 44-12 victory. The victors will battle for the DII national quarterfinal berth on May 7 in Tucson.
For Ventura, Saturday’s win was about redemption. The team had dropped its final regular-season game to San Fernando Valley 26-17, thus losing home-field advantage for the semifinal rematch.
“We had a lot to prove to ourselves,” said Ventura player-coach Julie Gould, who missed the first San Fernando game due to injury. “Obviously I wanted to be playing, but I saw a lot from the sidelines. The loss revealed where we needed to work for the next game. I pinpointed our downfall, and then we hammered it out at practice. I was grateful to take away so much from that game.”
Gould highlighted three areas of reform: offensive rucks, defensive alignment and penalty count. A fortified side retook the field Saturday, and it also regained influential players like Gould and forward power Vanessa Alvarez, among others. Ventura scored five first-half tries through Alvarez, Gould, Nycole Cole, Suzy Kwon and Danielle Robottom, and Katie Sellers’ conversion gave the visitors a 27-0 lead after 40.
Ventura had all of the momentum, but San Fernando Valley surged after the break for its first try. Christina Alatorre later scored, but Ventura tacked on another three tries from Alvarez, Gould and Yui Kawakatsu for a 44-12 victory.
“Going into Saturday, executing and putting into play everything we worked on, that was good motivation for the championship,” Gould eyed O.P. “The first time around, we traveled to them and lost 5-0 in a good, close match. We’re going to take what we know about Tucson and ourselves, create a new game plan, and just keep working so we’re prepared.”
Undefeated Lightning entered the post-season as the top seed and hosted #4 Fullerton on Saturday.
“The Lightning played well as a unit,” O.P. coach Matt DePoint reported. “They are starting to really put the team and the system first, and the individual second. We had scoring from different players this time, which reflects the ‘team try’ mentality. The offensive patterns of play that we execute are designed to isolate the defense to allow our athletes to take advantage of mismatches and overloads. We had mental breakdowns at times that prohibited us from capitalizing more from such situations.”
Lightning took a 17-point lead off tries from scrumhalf Ria Joseph, flanker Missy Cordero and outside center Amber Jones, with flyhalf Alex Rath tacking on the conversion. Fullerton then answered with a Holly Steininger try from the wing, and Jackie Morales’ extras made it a 17-7 ball game. Jones added some cushion with a penalty for the 20-7 victory.
“I was proud of our stout defense,” DePoint added. “We tackled well and consistently. Everybody trusted her teammate to do her job. My philosophy is that, if you make enough tackles, the opponents will eventually cough up the ball. We have a great group of veterans mixed in with our younger players. They are leading by example in their courageous tackling and overall effort. Leaving it all on the pitch. It is a joy to watch.”
Discipline will be a central theme at training the next two weeks. The Lightning committed an unacceptable amount of penalties at the tackle, despite referee Josh Luetkemeyer’s clear and firm application of the laws. It cost the home side a yellow card, which are game-changers especially in the post-season.
“We have a tough opponent in Ventura on May 7,” DePoint looked ahead. “They seem to be getting a full head of steam into the final. We need to make sure to firm up our set pieces and focus on the disruptive defense that I know we can execute. Everything else will fall into place. It is likely to be quite hot that day, which should play to our favor. It’s only a dry heat!
“The Lightning are in uncharted territory, and we are enjoying every moment of this extra rugby we get to play,” the coach added.
The SoCal champion will return to Tucson, site of the western portion of the DII club quarterfinals, on May 21-22.