Kennesaw State strips Tulane of Spring Champion title

PALO ALTO, Calif. – A new Women’s Division II Spring Champion was crowned at Stanford University’s Steuber Rugby Stadium Sunday, April 23, as Kennesaw State University defeated 2016 Spring Champion Tulane University, 21-15, in a South Independent Rugby Conference Final rematch.

The Owls of Kennesaw State advance to the 2017 USA Rugby College 15s National Championship at Life University, where they will face reigning National Champion Davenport University in the May 6 Final. That match, as well as the Men’s D1AA, Women’s D1 Elite, and Women’s DI games on the weekend, will be broadcast live at no cost to viewers on The Rugby Channel.

“We tell them that everybody at this level is a championship-level team, and that they have to go out and take everything and give nothing,” Kennesaw State coach Andrew Hutton said of the coaching staff’s message to players ahead of the Spring Championships. “I think they have earned respect in DII and it fills me with joy.”

An undefeated regular season preceded an upset of Tulane in the SIRC Final for Kennesaw State, though that familiarity benefitted the Green Wave early in Sunday’s Spring Championship match. Powerful No. 8 Lily Wissinger finished off Tulane’s early offensive in the ninth minute for an initial lead before creating a turnover and try midway through the half for a 12-0 advantage. The Owls lost a prop in the build-up to the second try and found the scoreboard through scrum half Akilah Guzman for a 12-7 score line at the break.

“Being familiar with Tulane did help by giving us confidence that we could win and knowing what we needed to do right,” Hutton said after the Spring Championship Final. “I think we did what we needed to, but with Tulane maintaining possession so well we played defense for a lot of the first quarter.

“Tulane used the tactic of not competing in the ruck, so there was no offside line. That caught us by surprise, creating an intercept try. We hadn’t gone over that or how to defend it. However, once they knew the law, they used it to their advantage. The turning point of the match was when they figured out how to do that on the fly, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The second match in two days in Northern California found both southeastern teams in need of fresh legs early in the second half, but it was Guzman again, capitalizing on a Monica Rodriguez run, who gave Kennesaw State a 14-12 lead in the 57th minute. Tulane regained the lead 10 minutes later as full back Tristan Peronard punished Owl ill-discipline with a penalty kick, before a frantic passage of play in the dying minutes led to an individual try-scoring run from Kennesaw State center Caitlane Fricia for the 21-15 final score.

Kennesaw State had momentarily trailed University of California, Irvine, in the second half of Saturday’s Semifinal until Fricia had regained the lead the Owls would not relinquish with her second try of the match. She finished off her hat trick 10 minutes from time in the eventual 36-10 victory.

“It is not all sunshine and rainbows,” Hutton said. “We had a plethora of injuries [on the weekend]; some of them quite serious. It will be interesting if we can heal those players to be available in the Final.”

Tulane had been made to work for its Spring Championship Final appearance against first-year Grand Canyon University. Similar to the Final, Peronard’s penalty kick in the 69th minute of the Semifinal put the Green Wave ahead, 17-15, before ‘Lopes reserve Amber Perryman scored her second try of the second half for a 20-17 Grand Canyon lead. Tulane left it late, but scrum half Gwendolyn Leifer crossed over with just minutes remaining to see her side through to the Final.

Grand Canyon went on to beat the Anteaters, 37-12, in Sunday’s consolation match at Steuber Rugby Stadium for a third-place Spring placement.

Davenport University shut out its Fall Championship opponent nearly five months ago and has given the Olympic sport of Rugby Sevens a focus this spring, but also added a NashBash 2017 title to its trophy cabinet that houses hardware from 2016 National Championship triumphs in 15s and sevens. The Panthers will face the Owls in Marietta, Ga., Saturday, May 6, at the 2017 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships, with the entire weekend set to be broadcast live on The Rugby Channel.