Air Force, UConn advance to Division I Fall Championship
BOULDER, Colo. - Unlikely programs will play for the Dec. 6 Women's Division I Fall Championship when Regional Playoff winners Air Force and University of Connecticut do battle at Furman University.
Fueled by multi-try performances from Laura Hetherman, Tess Repaci, and Nicole Sills, the Huskies blew past Kent State on day one of the East Regional held at Pittsburgh's Founders Field.
Princeton had a relatively easy time in its Fall Quarterfinal, as well. Five different Tigers found the try zone in the opening half alone to build a 30-3 advantage by intermission. In the second half, fly half Jochebed Muflam would notch her second and third tries of the afternoon to help Princeton roll, 49-18.
In the Fall Semifinal out of the East, it was Connecticut that jumped out to a 7-0 lead after a converted Alecia Alleyna try opened the match. Just when the Huskies appeared to have kept Princeton scoreless for an entire half, Tiger hooker Katherine Denner was able to dot the ball down, and pull her side within two at 7-5.
Princeton remained on the front foot to open the second half, securing converted tries from Muflam and Jessica Lu in the half's opening 12 minutes. Trailing, 19-7, second-rower Emily Reed went over for UConn's first points of the second half.
Still down seven points with fewer than five minutes remaining and her team's season on the line, Sills took over the game. The fly half converted her own try at the 77th minute to tie the match at 19-all. With no time remaining, the Huskies earned a penalty and Sills called for the posts. Aiming to avoid overtime and send Connecticut to the Fall Championship, Sills split the uprights for a 22-19 UConn lead at full time.
In Colorado, Air Force welcomed Northern Illinois, Texas, and its Quarterfinal opponent, Minnesota, to the Academy in Colorado Springs for the West Regional. On Nov. 21's day one, Northern Illinois surprised many with a 53-45 defeat of Texas. The Huskies, who were a last-minute replacement for an injury-riddled Iowa State squad, broke four separate ties to fend off the Longhorns.
The Falcons used the thin Rocky Mountain air to their advantage against Minnesota, as Air Force eventually tired out the Gophers, 31-18, over 80 minutes.
In the Fall Semifinal, Air Force lined up against a Northern Illinois side that had a difficult time physically responding to the Falcons' challenge following its hard-fought battle against Texas. Scrum half Gianna Khoudary paced Air Force's attack with four tries, and No. 8 Lauren Fortney tallied 17 points of her own in the dominating, 69-5, win.
The sweep of victories for Air Force and Connecticut earn the programs two weeks of rest and preparation for the Dec. 6 Women's DI Fall Championship Final. The match to decide the DI Fall Champion will be played at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., as part of the premier fall event for college rugby.
Along with the fixture between Air Force and Connecticut, the Women's DII Fall Semifinals and Finals will be contested, as well as the Men's DII National Championship. The Fall Championships at Furman, including the DI Final scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, will be broadcast and aired live on USA Rugby TV.