LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Reigning Women’s Division II National Champion Davenport University won the Fall Championship to earn a seat at the May 6 College 15s National Championship table once again. This year the Panthers will contend with Kennesaw State University in the National Championship match starting at 1:30 p.m. ET live on The Rugby Channel after the Owls emerged as the Division II Spring Champions.
The 2015-16 season was a special one for Davenport. A one-loss 15s season led the Panthers to the 2016 Women’s Division II National Championship. Three weeks later Davenport went 4-0 to claim dual code titles at the 2016 College 7s National Championships. This year, another one-loss 15s season earned the Panthers the DII Fall title and a chance to claim a second consecutive National Championship in 15s.
On the other side of the ball, Kennesaw State has seemingly come out of nowhere to carve through a Division II Spring field and take its own place at the College 15s National Championship table at Life University in Marietta, Ga. The Owls have showed tremendous heart during their surprising postseason run. Since its 101-24 blowout win over UNC-Charlotte in the regional payoffs, Kennesaw State has trailed in the second half during each of its last three win-or-go-home matches, but have found ways to surge ahead in the closing minutes.
“We are fortunate to have a group of women that love the game and really want to play for each other,” said Kennesaw State Coach Andrew Hutton. “We have always thought of ourselves as a second-half team – that is where we shine. I think it is a combination of fitness and being able to adjust to the opposition. When we are given opportunities, we take them. We simply refuse to lose.”
The Owls will need that ‘never-say-die’ attitude May 6. Davenport is likely to be more experienced and more athletic than the squads Kennesaw State beat to get to the title match.
Davenport found itself in familiar territory in December when it traveled to Furman University in Greenville, S.C., for the Fall Championships. After getting past a tough Vassar College side, 47-32, in the Semifinals, the Panthers shut out an overmatched Winona State team, 37-0, in the Fall Final.
A dynamic back row of Brenna Donahue, Hannah Garcia, and Hunter Moreland gave defenses all they could handle in the fall, while fly half Hannah Tennant’s accurate kicking boot and center Danielle Ordway’s fancy footwork were scoring loads of points when the loose forwards were not. However, a nasty string of injuries has put a major dent in Davenport’s starting lineup. The injury toll has nearly reached double digits, and it is unsure if the Panthers will possess the same amount of firepower Saturday as they did in the fall.
“We are a much different team this spring…not sure how things are going to go for us Saturday, but we will for sure show up and give it our best,” said Davenport Head Coach Greg Teliczan.
Like the Panthers, Kennesaw State has dangerous players in both the forwards and backs. It all starts with scrum half Akilah Guzman, who scored two of the team’s three tries in the Spring Championship game against Tulane. She will look to get her centers, Caitlane Fricia and Monica Rodriguez, as many touches as possible. Fricia and Rodriguez have a special combination of size and speed, and run excellent lines.
The eight-player forward pack works well together, but the Owls have a distinct standout in the first, second and third rows. Prop Chelsea Jones is a force to be reckoned with at the contact point, while lock Alicia Morrison is a huge help in both the set piece and in the loose, and No. 8 Courtney Coffee exemplifies the team’s relentless work rate.
“We are lucky to have a lot of players we can count on,” Hutton said. “It really is a team effort. At practice everyone makes each other work and get better. In my opinion, that has been the most important factor to get us where we are now.”
The 80 minutes to decide the 2017 Women’s Division II National Champion begins Saturday, April 6, at 1:30 p.m. ET from Life University and can be seen live on The Rugby Channel.