Photo: USA Rugby / Travis Prior
GLENDALE, Colo. – Seattle Saracens ended a long season with a 36-19 win against Chicago North Shore Saturday to take the USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club Women’s Division I National Championship trophy home to where it has been held for the past year.
The team out of Washington did not have the same kind of attacking success Life West had in the DII Final that opened the Championship weekend at Infinity Park, but played smart and capitalized on scoring opportunities to steadily build a lead over North Shore.
Chicago had to deal without the ball for plenty of the first half, and succumbed to several penalties that were turned into three-point penalty kicks. North Shore cut into the 9-0 deficit in the 24th minute, with Kadie Sanford going over from successive set pieces.
North Shore could not keep Seattle quiet for long, however, and had fullback Alexandra Borowski sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements. Rose Baker scored Seattle’s first try of the match with the player-advantage before capped Eagle Ashley Kmiecik sent a behind-the-back pass to Kristine Sommer before the end of the half to give Saracens breathing room at 19-7.
Capped Eagle wing Kelsi Stockert was inserted into the fullback position for the second half and showed her finesse and speed with a try-scoring run from midfield 10 minutes in, and back-line partner Carly MacKinnon kicked the conversion for a 26-7 score line. Ten minutes later, Chicago threatened on the Seattle doorstep and Sanford dotted down for the second time to make it 26-14.
Sensing more of a comeback as North Shore spent more time with the ball in the attacking half, Seattle coach Tim Zern continued with tactical changes. Kelsey Reed brought Chicago closer with a try at 26-19, but prop Emily Vyhnanek “changed the game.”
“[A tie] was the first scenario running through my head,” Zern said of the final 10 minutes. “‘Oh, here we go again,’ right up to the last second. Emily V. came in, stole the ball, we had a quick recycle and moved the ball through a few phases, and we got the try that was really the difference.”
Vyhnanek’s play led to Stockert scoring her first try, and a run down the wing and offload from Kmiecik set up her second as Seattle pulled away in the final minutes to win, 36-19.
Zern had praise for Stockert and MacKinnon, with the two providing the attacking “oomph” the team needed with North Shore on the hunt. Chicago’s second trip to the DI Final in three seasons ends in the same fashion as the first with the loss, but the players have no reason to hang their heads in defeat.
Most Valuable Player Chelsey Sveinsson was influential throughout the 80 minutes at the end of a more-than-20-match season, and received an invite to the Women’s Eagles National All-Star Competition with her play in Saturday’s Final.
“Chelsey’s a special player, and a special person, as well,” Zern said of his No. 8. “She went through a lot of adversity to come to us, it was difficult for her to get settled, but we took good care of her. She played a lot of rugby this year and got a lot better; she’s a talent.
“She’s a very impressive player with a great mentality and great temperament off the pitch.”