Central Washington, Riverside into National title games after DI, DII Spring Championships

PITTSBURGH – Central Washington will play Penn State for the Women’s Division I National Championship and UC Riverside will contest the DII title with Notre Dame College after the Wildcats and Highlanders won the DI and DII Spring Championships, respectively.

On day one of the Women’s DI Spring Championship, Heather Johnson gave Central Washington an early, 5-0, lead, but an inspired Life side would score the next 17 points to take a 12-point lead into halftime of the April 24 Semifinal. However, the Wildcats hit their stride after the break, and tries from Cassidy Meyers, Fina Toetu’u, Samantha Pinson, and a second from Johnson would run Central Washington’s lead to 40-17 by the final whistle.

The defeat was disappointing for Life, but only a minor letdown in what was otherwise a remarkable season for the first-year program.

“It’s amazing what this group of women has accomplished in such a short amount of time and we are right back at working hard toward an even better 2015-2016,” Head Coach Rosalind Chou told LIFE U. “This team is hungry and thirsting for more improvement, and we look forward to growing with all the hard-working recruits we have coming in next season.”

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On the other side of the DI bracket, BYU received resistance in the early going against West Chester in the Semifinals, but the Cougars proved too strong for the 2014 Semifinalist, prevailing, 56-20. Seven players scored tries for BYU, but the Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference Champions were paced by prop Rebekah Boaz’s four tries.

A day later, Central Washington took the field with BYU for a place in the May 9 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships on the line. Just four minutes into the Spring Final, a yellow card sent Central Washington’s star center, Asinate Serevi, into the sin bin. Soon after, the Cougars’ Jordan Gray used the 15-on-14 advantage to score two tries, the second of which Chanel Arts Johnstun converted before adding a penalty in the 27th minute.

The fast start by BYU created a hole for Central Washington to climb out of, but it wasn’t enough to phase the battle-tested Wildcats.

“The first 10 minutes we knew they were going to be physical, and BYU was able to get some quick tries,” Central Washington Head Coach Mel Denham told CWU Athletics. “But we knew it would take time and we were confident we would get back into the game.”

Serevi would cut into the deficit with a converted try to bring the halftime score to 15-7 in favor of BYU. In the second half, fly half Katerina Long put points on the board early on with a penalty and gave the Wildcats their first lead by converting Rosalind Pena’s try midway through the second stanza.

Known for their explosive attack, the Cougars’ offense sputtered against Central Washington’s suffocating defensive effort. In contrast, the Wildcats’ attack gained momentum as the match wore on, as Ashley Rolsma dotted down and Serevi added her second try.

In the end, Central Washington was left to celebrate a 29-15 victory and its place in the Women’s DI Final against perennial power Penn State.

“It’s exciting to have a chance to win a National Championship,” said Denham, whose American International squad finished third in DI in 2013. “We have to get home, recover, and get to work. We have to step out [sic] game and play at another to give ourselves the best opportunity to defeat Penn State.”

In the April 25 Women’s DII Spring Semifinals, UC Riverside and California State-Northridge advanced following day one victories against Salisbury and Florida International, respectively.

Riverside’s place in the Final was in question early, as the Highlanders were trailing Salisbury, 12-10, 15 minutes into the game. However, Riverside would receive hat-trick performances from both Domonique Bellinger and Brande Samaan to help race to a 56-24 win.

In similar fashion, Northridge trailed early, but did well to contain Florida International’s speed and defeat the Panthers, 27-5, on the strength of Yesenia Camacho’s three tries.

In the thrilling Final between the two southern California clubs, a back-and-forth 80 minutes led to five lead changes and three tries. Down 20-17, Northridge sent prop Ciarra Waters-Mullen over for what looked a game-winning try. However, Michelle Wong, who produced the a three-point lead with a penalty goal in the 74th minute, kicked the Highlanders into the DII National Championship Final with another successful attempt at goal on the match’s final play.

Penn State awaits a challenge from Central Washington after conquering Norwich in the DI Fall Championship, while Notre Dame College will be opposite Riverside after its 45-10 defeat of Winona State in the DII Fall Final.

The Women’s DI and DII National Championship games make up just half of the action that will be on display at the May 9 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University. Championships will also be decided in the Men’s D1A and D1AA ranks.

Women’s Division I and Division II Spring Championships

Match Score
DI Semifinal BYU 56-20 West Chester
DI Semifinal Central Washington 40-17 Life
DII Semifinal Salisbury 24-56 Riverside
DII Semifinal Cal State-Northridge 27-5 Florida International
DI Consolation West Chester 10-34 Life
DI Final Central Washington 29-15 BYU
DII Consolation Florida International 17-34 Salisbury
DII Final Cal State-Northridge 22-23 UC Riverside

Women’s Division I and Division II National Championships
Women’s Division I: Penn State (Fall Champion) v Central Washington (Spring Champion)
Women’s Division II: Notre Dame College (Fall Champion) v UC Riverside (Spring Champion)

National Championships berths on the line at Spring Championships

BOULDER, Colo. – The first USA Rugby Women’s Division I and Division II Spring Championships, held April 24-26 at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh, will send two teams to the May 9 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University.

Central Washington’s 53-7 defeat of 2014 DI Finalist Stanford in the West Regional keeps the Cardinal from reaching a second consecutive National Championship Final, while Cal State-Northridge has one of last year’s DII Semifinalists in the way of back-to-back Final appearances.

Division I Semifinals

BYU – West Chester
West Chester responded from a brutal, 58-0, loss to eventual National Champion Penn State in last year’s Semifinals to win the Mason-Dixon Conference undefeated. In four fall Conference matches, the Golden Rams allowed just two tries while scoring 339 points. Quinnipiac handed West Chester its only loss in the final match of the fall season before a March victory against Whitehorse Women’s Club readied the team for the Mason-Dixon Conference Championship, where the Golden Rams defeated North Carolina in the Final.

To prepare for April’s Mid-Atlantic Regional, the Conference Champion played two matches away from home in three days. After a 66-3 defeat of Bloomsburg, Northern Virginia Women’s Rugby Club became just the second team to best West Chester since May 2014, and the first since Nov. 8.

“Although we took a loss against a top-level women’s team, we were able to accomplish some of the goals and outcomes that we were looking for before the Round of 16 weekend,” Head Coach Tony Deremer told WCU Athletics.

The match against the Division II Senior Club added an extra spark to the Golden Rams’ play, as West Chester steamrolled James Madison for the second time this season in the Round of 16. Virginia came closer than most to ending West Chester’s run to a National Championship, but could not complete the Quarterfinal upset.

BYU’s only stumbling block on the way to the Spring Championships was a 30-29 November loss to New Mexico in Albuquerque. The Cougars could not convert a penalty kick at the final whistle to overtake the Lobos, who had regained the lead minutes beforehand. The March return trip was less fruitful for New Mexico, however, as BYU made quick work of the Lobos in a 110-5 romp in Provo.

With a month to prepare for do-or-die matches at the Southwest Regional, the Cougars did not overextend themselves with matches across the country, traveling to Camp W. G. Williams in Bluffdale, Utah, and hosting Vipers Women in Provo. The freshness was too much for Cal in the Round of 16, as BYU set up a third match against New Mexico with a 97-0 win.

The home crowd at Balloon Fiesta Park could not will the Lobos to a Semifinal berth or a best-of-three series win, with the visiting Cougars extending the aggregate score line of the season series to 214-40 with a 75-5 Quarterfinal victory.

Both teams feature outstanding individuals, such as 2014 AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American and 2013 AIG Women’s Junior All-American Jordan Gray (BYU); 2014 WJAAs Elizabeth Groff and Adriana Zeiders (West Chester); and 2014 WCAA Nicole Benedetti (West Chester); but it is the play of 15 individuals as a team that has seen BYU and West Chester combine to defeat opponents 1,441-235 in all competitions during the 2014-15 academic year.

The two teams will meet Friday, April 24, at 4 p.m. ET.

Central Washington – Life
Even if Penn State turned the 2014 DI Final into a lopsided match before the referee could call halftime, Stanford was the team to beat in one half of the National Championship bracket. Of course, Central Washington was not in the National Championship picture a year ago, having only started the women’s rugby program in late February 2014.

In fact, the Wildcats did not have a head coach until the hire of capped Women’s Eagle Mel Denham two days after her American International team finished third at the National Championships.

The Wildcats, also bolstered by capped Eagle Katie Dowty as assistant coach, welcomed a few players that joined Denham from AIC, including 2013 WJAA Cassidy Meyers and WCAA-invite Megan Pinson. The program showed no signs of infancy, however, to the detriment of Central Washington’s opponents.

Nearby Washington State and Washington were drilled by Denham’s squad in the fall before it welcomed Quinnipiac to Ellensburg, Wash. The Bobcats gave Central Washington its closest test of the season in the Wildcats’ third 15s match against collegiate competition, but still lost.

Additional fall friendlies against fellow Pacific Mountain Conference teams Oregon State and Oregon, as well as a rematch with Washington State, prepared Central Washington for an undefeated inaugural season and first seed in the Conference’s North division. Hoping for a positive sendoff to the West Regional at Stanford University, the Wildcats took on Seattle Saracens’ senior club side, a 29-14 loss for Denham’s team.

“The game was exactly what we wanted going into [Regionals],” the head coach told CWU Athletics. “We needed to be challenged so that we could learn to operate under pressure.”

Whether or not the loss was on the minds of the Wildcats as they took to the Steuber Rugby Stadium pitch in Stanford is up for debate, as the team picked up where it left off in Conference play, defeating California State University-Chico, 101-0, and UC Davis, 57-10, in successive days to win the Conference Championship.

Central Washington kept rolling to beat UC Davis again in the Regional Semifinal and upend reigning National Championship Finalist Stanford at the West Regionals for a berth in the Spring Championships.

Life’s story is similar to Central Washington’s in that the Running Eagles also competed in their first season during the 2014-15 academic year. Quinnipiac again welcomed a new program to the fold with a 34-19 defeat of Life in Marietta, Ga., but Rosalind Chou’s side has not lost a match since.

The Running Eagles backed up a 7-1 fall record with shutouts of Florida State, Tennessee, and Central Florida to open the spring season, and only Georgia Tech registered points on the opposite side of the scoreboard prior to the South Independent Rugby Conference Playoffs. Life swept aside the Seminoles and the Knights by a combined score of 120-10 to win the Conference.

A 98-0 rout of Texas A&M in the South Regional Semifinal set up a Final against North Carolina at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. With ball in hand in the final minute of the match, the Running Eagles opted to go for the win in open play instead of kicking for the draw. Kaitlyn Broughton, who set up Life’s initial try, dotted down in-goal for the 12-10 win and berth in the Spring Championships.

“It’s an absolute honor to be moving on to the [Spring Championship Semifinals] in our very first year of the program,” Chou told Life U. “This team started modestly and has grown into something special. They have amazing chemistry and they look after each other.”

Like the other Semifinal’s teams, Central Washington and Life have no problem scoring. Looking solely at conference matches – four for the Wildcats and five for the Running Eagles – the teams combined for 686 points scored to just 22 conceded. In all competitions during the 2014-15 academic year, the teams combined for a 1,971-217 score line.

While Life has young talent across the board, Central Washington boasts plenty of All-American experience. Ashley Rolsma and Fina Toetu’u were both selected to the 2013 and 2014 Stars and Stripes Camps, the WJAA squad that competed in the U20 Women’s Nations Cup in England in 2013, and the inaugural Girls High School All-Americans powered by Serevi.

The Semifinal at Founder’s Field is scheduled to kick off Friday, April 24, at 5:45 p.m. ET.

Division II Semifinals

Cal State-Northridge – Florida International
The Matadors did not look like a Finalist in their 2014 Semifinal, having been kept in their own half for the better part of the 80-minute match. Northridge knotted the score at 5-5 after 40 minutes, and used the momentum going into the second half to pull out a 15-5 win.

Unfortunately for the Matadors, Mary Washington’s Cinderella-story-type run to the National Championship was not to be stopped. Mary Washington did not reach the inaugural Spring Championships, however, so the Matadors will have to deal with Florida International in Pittsburgh after beating Nevada-Reno and Humboldt at the West Regional.

Matched with Mary Washington in last year’s Semifinal, Florida International understands just how close a National Championship can seem. Undefeated throughout the season, the Panthers hurt themselves with errors in Stanford to finish fourth in DII.

With eyes on a second consecutive top-four finish and potentially more, Florida International showed its intent with strong victories over Alabama and South Florida at the South Regional.

The Semifinal is scheduled to kick off at 12:45 p.m. ET Saturday, April 25.

Salisbury – UC-Riverside
Salisbury sailed through its Mid-Atlantic Regional Semifinal with a 50-15 defeat of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, then faced a tough College of Charleston side that had kept Mary Washington to one score. Salisbury came out on top at Founder’s Field with a 22-19 victory.

UC-Riverside’s only match at the Southwest Regional in Albuquerque was a 44-29 win against Texas State. With a cross-country trip to Pennsylvania, the Highlanders will need to control their energy levels against a nearby Salisbury team.

Saturday’s match will kick off at 11 a.m. ET.

Women’s DI, DII Spring Championships Schedule

Match Date/Time
DI SF: BYU 56-18 West Chester
DI SF: Central Washington 40-17 Life
DII SF: Salisbury v UC-Riverside Saturday, April 25 – 11 a.m. ET
DII SF: Cal State-Northridge v Florida International Saturday, April 25 – 12:45 p.m. ET
DI Consolation: West Chester v Life Saturday, April 25 – 2:15 p.m. ET
DI Final: BYU v Central Washington Saturday, April 25 – 4 p.m. ET
DII Consolation: Loser of Salisbury/UC-Riverside v Loser of Cal State-Northridge/Florida International Sunday, April 26 – 11 a.m. ET
DII Final: Winner of Salisbury/UC-Riverside v Winner of Cal State-Northridge/Florida International Sunday, April 26 – 12:45 p.m. ET

Sixteen DI, 14 DII teams still in hunt for Spring Championships

BOULDER, Colo. – The locations and teams for the April 10-12 Women’s Division I and Division II Regional Spring Championships have been finalized. The completion of conference playoffs has seen Conference Champions into Regionals, while nine DI teams reach the round of 16 as at-large participants, and five DII teams fill out Regionals by way of at-large placement.

Excluding the DI Southwest Regional, which will be played April 10-11, the No. 1 seed from each region will play the No. 4 seed Saturday, April 11, while the No. 2 seed matches up against the No. 3 seed. The winning teams on the Regional’s first day will play one another for a place in the April 24-25 Women’s Spring Championships at Founder’s Field in Pittsburgh.

West Regional – Stanford, Calif.
Division I Division II
Stanford v. Washington State Humboldt v. Western Oregon
Central Washington v. UC Davis Cal State Northridge v. Nevada-Reno
Southwest Regional – Albuquerque, N.M.
Division I Division II
BYU Women v. California Texas State v. UC Riverside
UC San Diego v. New Mexico
Mid-Atlantic Regional – Pittsburgh
Division I Division II
West Chester v. James Madison Mary Washington v. College of Charleston
Virginia v. Virginia Tech Indiana University of Pennsylvania v. Salisbury
South Regional – Greenville, S.C.
Division I Division II
Life v. Texas A&M Florida International v. Alabama
North Carolina v. Central Florida South Carolina v. South Florida

The winners of the DI Spring Championship will play Fall Champion Penn State, while Notre Dame College awaits the winner of the DII Spring Championship. Both the Women’s DI and DII National Championships will be part of May 9’s College 15s National Championships at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State.

Tickets for the 2015 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships are available at Kennesaw State’s online ticketing office.