The Women’s D1 playoffs pick up in the quarter finals and there are some very intriguing match ups taking place, highlighted by two matches. The first is between recently promoted, D2 National Champion, Davenport playing against Minnesota, the 2016 D1 semi-finalists. The second pairs UConn, last year’s runner up, with Navy who have been dominating the opposition. The winner of each game will be a heavy favorite to find their way into the National Championship game.
Davenport are entering the tournament with an impressive track record that few teams have produced. This year they have scored, on five separate occasions, over 100 points in a single game. Their most recent victim was Michigan State who they faced in the wildcard round last weekend. Whilst they are new to the D1 ranks they are certainly making their presence felt, and will be firmly believing that they have what it takes to win the D1 competition during their inaugural season.
Despite their fierce opposition Minnesota, will be feeling confident about their chances of pulling out a result on the weekend. Minnesota is, in every regard, a team. Their coach, Rebecca Radtke spoke about the commitment the women have shown to themselves, their goals and the program. “The Freshmen took heed to the message of wanting to be a winning team seriously… and have shown commitment off the pitch in their conditioning and learning.” This process has been years in the making, and the feel it’s time to reap the rewards of their harvest. Radtke describes their team as one of “Character” displaying it on and off the field; adding that they’ve been preparing for this weekend for the last eleven months. When asked about the upcoming matchup Radtke didn’t shy away, even, welcoming the challenge: “Full respect to Davenport. We want to win against the best”
On the other side of the bracket lies UConn and Navy. UConn return to the playoffs after falling one win short of winning it all last year. “The weather was atrocious, and the decision making wasn’t good.” Commented Mark Jordan, UConn’s head coach “but we’ve changed the way we’ve done things and we’ve added a few more arrows to our bow”. With 18 members of UConn’s squad graduating last year, you may have excused the pundits for believing that this year may have been a rebuilding one. However, those on the inside didn’t feel the same way. “This year they want to go back” Jordan explained “they’re a happy bunch who are enjoying each other and rugby”. Jordan even described the team as a “family” always there supporting one another on and off the pitch. Through their dominant season Jordan has been afforded the luxury of being able to sub players in and giving the younger players more time to develop. When asked about his chances he stated: “We’re fairly confident in our own defense and attacking ability”.
Navy enter the playoffs after one of the more impressive regular seasons this year. They went through their competition like a hot knife through butter. Only suffering one loss to the varsity program at Army. For the rest of the year they were undefeated scoring on average 77 points in their last 5 games of the season, while only conceding 21 total points over the same 5 game span. This proves to be one of the bigger fixtures of the weekend, with the winner looking like they will have a strong chance of making it all the way through to the Championship. It is not often that you’ll have two such high caliber teams facing off in the first round.
In the Women’s D2 bracket we dive into the action at the round of 16, where there are plenty of games between established programs and those that are on the rise. Two games that encapsulate the combination of veteran and adolescent programs in the round of 16 are UW OshKosh vs. Cincinnati and Coast Guard up against SUNY Cortland.
Oshkosh and Cincinnati are two teams that are looking for their first real taste of national success. Cincinnati’s last two appearances in the playoffs have been cut short by the eventual champions Davenport. With Davenport promoted to DI Cincinnati feel like this will be a great chance to advance passed the opening weekend. Kayla Closson, Cincinnati’s coach believes this could be their year. “The team has always been good but this is the best team since 2012 [when the club was founded]”. She credits the increased performance levels to the “blend of youth and experience” as well as the “desire to get better”. Even though they will not be facing Davenport this year they are still using the lessons that they learned from their losses to them over the last couple of years: “We’ve incorporated more strategies into their game”. They believe firmly enough in their own systems not to scout the opposition. “We encourage our girls not to research our opposition”. Closson believes that it will cause unnecessary distraction from their own game plan, which she believes if executed properly will get the job done.
UW Oshkosh caught themselves by surprise with the success that they’ve experienced this year. “We…went into our season with the mindset that we would be rebuilding our club…Truthfully, we had no idea what to expect from this season, but we stayed positive.” explained Cat Lewis Oshkosh’s coach. “This weekend we really hope to make a statement in Ohio. We have not been recognized at this level before.” Lewis puts the change in fortune this year down to better communication, camaraderie, higher morale, recruiting and a more efficient training schedule. The tough physical nature of the tournament, as well as the mental sharpness needed to succeed are all traits that Lewis believes her team possess. “This team is extremely adaptable and handles change well… we’ve done back to back games before so I don’t think that will be a huge obstacle for us.” Oshkosh sounds and looks as if they are more than ready for any challenges that Cincinnati will try and throw their way.
In the Mid-Atlantic Region corner of the bracket Cortland is facing off against perennial contender Coast Guard. Cortland is coming into the tournament for the first time in several years. They made it through the play-off round after handling the University of Albany. For their first time, back in the tournament they are in for a tall order coming up against returning semi-finalists. Coast Guard is coming into the play-offs with an impressive season under their belts having gone undefeated and scoring over 65 points in all of their games and only conceding 22 points all season. After having lost to Winona State in the semi-finals last year Coast Guard will be looking to set up a potential rematch with them in Furman, and make amends for the way their season ended last year.