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USA Club Rugby 15s Nationals: DII Preview

  • 15 May 2024
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South Buffalo rugby

The USA Club Rugby 15s National Championships are here, five titles will be decided at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex in Texas. The women’s Division II competition will play a Saturday/Sunday format, with semifinals on May 18 and final on May 19 (there are no 3rd place matches). All games will be live-streamed on The Rugby Network.

RELATED: Read the Women’s DI Preview

Saturday, May 18
Division II Semifinals (All times CDT)
Phoenixville v Sacramento
12 p.m. Field 1

Of the four teams, Sacramento is the veteran when it comes to this stage of national playoffs. The Amazons won the last DII national championship prior to covid, and current players like Siu Green, Rachel Gonzales, Caroline Sequeira, Roxanne Lembke and Ariana Lewis remember spring 2019 fondly. Green and Gonzales were also part of the team’s runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2015. (Coincidentally, Sacramento played current DI contender Pittsburgh in the 2014 DII final.)

In the past, the Amazons have struggled for numbers, especially when it comes to the back-to-back playoff games that happen late in the season, but that hasn’t been the case this year. The NorCal champ went big in its Pacific Super Regional Championship (SRC) semifinal against Portland (54-15), then turned right around to beat Las Vegas 60-7 on day two.

 

That output was also impressive due to the Amazons’ mixed-cadence spring season. The team played four-straight games beginning on Jan. 20, followed by a month-long great. A three-game block followed, and then so did a month-long gap before SRCs. It challenged the proper build throughout a season, but head coach Gary Gordon and the squad were ready for the demands of playoff rugby.

Green at No. 8 and Emily Persson, who handles kicks for points, are the captains, and they’re linked by scrumhalf Sam Santos, who has background with DI Tempe. They deploy power, speed and a solid bench.

Phoenixville, on the other hand, is new to the national semifinals, but is on the up and up. The first half of the EPRU season saw close scorelines and even a loss to Harrisburg, but the back half of the year has been fire. West Chester University Women’s Rugby Head Coach Tony DeRemer joined the coaching staff in January, and on-field leadership is centered in captains Lindsey Allebach and Corinne Gallagher, the No. 8 and fullback, respectively. Gallagher is the team’s high scorer, finishing a good amount of tries and serving as the team’s main place kicker.

 

This year’s Atlantic SRC occurred across two separate weekends, as opposed to the two-game weekend that the other three SRCs support. The format lessens the risk of injury (and also saves money for the semifinal losers), but also limits the team’s intel on what a two-game weekend requires (nationals is a two-game weekend for finalists). Phoenixville beat Albany in the Atlantic SRCs and then banked a confidence-boosting final’s win against Severn River, 12-8, to earn the berth to Texas. Last year, the Honey Badgers beat Phoenixville by five points in the Atlantic title match and finished No. 2 in the nation.

Tampa Bay v South Buffalo
1 p.m. Field 2

Tampa Bay is the next-most battle-worn team when reflecting on the past five years. The Krewe has separated itself from the rest of the Florida field in terms of performance, and that can be a hindrance when attempting to prepare for the post-season uptick. But the team has high standards for itself and individuals seek out opportunities with USA South (which plays all-star ball in December and took a winter tour to Trinidad & Tobago) and in the local and national touch leagues.

Tampa Bay advanced to the 2023 Gulf Coast SRC final and fell 11 points short of eventual national champion Knoxville. But much like Phoenixville, a reversal was in store for 2024. After a comfortable win against Charleston in the Gulf Coast SRC semifinals, Tampa Bay turned around for a 41-8 final’s victory against the Minx.

 

Sam Black-Keels was named championship MVP and is the consummate veteran in the back field. But the Krewe does a great job of empowering its players across the pitch, and it’s seen on the box scores. Captain, flyhalf and place kicker Robyn Oliveri, as well as vice captain and lock Antonina O’Neill feature heavily in the game recaps. Points come from prop Laurell Cuza, No. 8 Rachael Bradley, thundering inside center Nikki Snyder, the fleet Gabrielle Pennino — everywhere.

Tampa Bay will play South Buffalo, which started playing playoff ball in November. That’s when the Upstate New York team beat out the field for the Midwest championship and booked a berth to the Northern SRC — a gap of almost six months. Normally, that long of a runway is a boon to logistics, but the SRC switched locations from Denver to Chicago after players had already bought plane tickets, and that was an element of stress.

Indoor training restarted in February at the Buffalo Bills Fieldhouse and just two friendlies in April preceded the Northern SRC. Across all of the national semifinalists, South Buffalo is certainly the last team to get outdoors, but those tune-ups against DI Buffalo and Toronto Nomads were enough to regain shape for the May 4-5 regionals. The team started with an 83-12 win against Rocky Mountain champ Boulder, and then in a rematch of the Midwest championship, finished with a 34-14 win against Grand Rapids.

 

Center Gabby Dispenza continued to dominate and racked up six tries on the weekend, while flyhalf Kelly DeGrood contributed 27 points on a try and 11 conversions.  The back three of Breana Harris, Amanda Lenau and Eva Bobeck accounted for nine tries across those two games, while flankers Amy McNutt and Kindle Boyd, and center Erin Risto also dotted down.

Now South Buffalo is heading to Round Rock, Texas, for its first-ever national semifinals and will be greeted by 90-degree weather on the weekend. Tampa Bay will be best equipped for those conditions, but all teams will certainly be leaning heavily on fitness and depth of bench. Tune into The Rugby Network to see how it all plays out!

 

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