The fall champion for the women’s D1 title will be determined on Sunday, in what is shaping up to be a closely fought contest between the University Notre Dame and Davenport. Davenport is making their first foray into the D1 Championship after having won the D2 championship in 2015 and 2016. They will come up against tough competition in the form of Notre Dame. Notre Dame is coming off a strong showing in the regionals where they scored a convincing win against Boston University in the first round, and then clawed their way back in the semi-final against last year’s runner up, UConn, to stage a late second half comeback and book their spot in South Carolina. Ricardo Ramirez, Notre Dame’s head coach, was pleased with the result but didn’t believe the win gave them any added confidence as it was already installed in them.
“The team doesn’t need motivation that they don’t produce on their own,” he said. “The win over UConn played out how we hoped it would. We knew it was going to be a good close game because it was that way the year prior.” Ramirez was also eager to foster a calm and relaxed atmosphere in camp leading up to this weekend stating “The mood is good. They are having a good time…a fun time. Focus this week is heading towards finals so rugby can be the source of a getaway for some of them.” Adding that the weekend isn’t as much about the result as it is “another chance to play with their teammates”. The relaxed environment will ensure they are not overawed by their predicament and they will be fully focused on the game when Sunday rolls around.
Davenport on the other side of the coin will be looking to continue to make waves in the rugby world with their unprecedented run of form since moving up a division. After having run through their regular season, with 5 games where they scored 100 or more points, they were slowed down, comparatively, in the quarterfinals and semi-finals. Despite not putting up 100 points in either of their lead in matches they were still able to put in impressive showings, especially on defense only conceding 10 points throughout the weekend. Greg Teliczan, Davenport’s Head Coach, signals that a quick start and a dominant performance up front will be what can help to separate the two teams: “Our tight 5 will need to play big in this one controlling set pieces and cleaning up breakdowns… We will need to put ND away early to secure this win.” All signs are pointing towards this being a fiercely competitive game and one where points will be at a premium as Notre Dame is focusing on their defensive structures to nullify the attack of Davenport, and Davenport having a historically stingy defense. It will be a great game to finish off what has been an exciting fall season in D1 play.
The semi-finals on Saturday are shaping up to be exciting matchups with three of the four teams from last year’s semi-final returning to this year’s semi-finals (the one team not returning is Davenport, playing for the D1 championship). In the first matchup of the weekend it is the Coast Guard coming up against Vassar, in a rematch of last year’s 3rd place play off in which Vassar came out on top in a tightly fought contest 15-10. There is no doubt they will be looking for the same result on Saturday, and having played them three times in two years they know exactly what they will need to bring to the table in order to walk away with the win.
“We will need to bring a lot of energy to the game and stick to our patterns of play,” explained Vassar coach, Anthony Brown. Brown also noted the team has learned from last year’s semi-final against Davenport. “Last year we shipped 3 tries and fell behind 19-0 in the first 25 minutes… We will want to be focused from the very start,” he said. They will be relying on their prior experiences at this level to ensure they are not going to fall behind early again. “We have been here 4 of the last 5 years and brought our full squad, so even if a player was not a starter previously they know what to expect,” says Vassar. Vassar sounds like a team confident in their plan and one who knows what they need to do, it will be interesting to see how it comes to fruition on Saturday.
Their opposition, Coast Guard, will be looking to extract some revenge for last year’s result. They come into the weekend on the back of two dominant performances in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, beating SUNY Cortland by 37 points and then shutting Marist out. This Coast Guard team is looking dangerous on both sides of the ball, and knowing their opponent so intimately should provide them with confidence going into the clash on Saturday. Their recent losses to Vassar will no doubt will have left a bitter taste in their mouth, and they will be looking to wash it out by advancing to the championship game.
In the other semi-final for the weekend will see last year’s runner up, Winona State, go head to head with semi-final debutants, Cincinnati. Winona State is coming off back to back losses in the championship games against Davenport, this year in Davenport’s absence they will be looking to take over the title. Winona State blew through Sam Houston State in the first round beating them 59-0. They then had a tough match up against Colorado Mines but eventually prevailed 37-26. They clearly have a strong balance between offense and defense, this balanced play has been a trademark of theirs throughout their run off success.
Cincinnati, similarly to Winona State, had fallen victim to Davenport’s success over the past years. Davenport had been blocking their path for the semifinals for some time, but they were able to take advantage of their absence and prove to their competition why they deserved a seat at the table. They are not about to let this opportunity go to waste: “We have been preparing for this for the past 3 years. The team is ready both physically and mentally,” Cincinnati Coach Kayla Closson explained, reiterating “The team is excited and ready to show the division that though we may be a newer team around the block.” Closson was also quick to point out the onus of the game falls onto her athlete’s when she said “The key factor will be for our team to work together and show up ready to play their best. It is up to them to decide how bad they want it. We are here as coaches to give them the tools to play a fantastic game and only they can decide how or when to use those tools.” If their results from two weekends ago are anything to go by, it is safe to say her players are more than ready to put those tools to work and seize the opportunity which lies ahead of them.
All games will be available to be streamed through The Rugby Channel.