Women’s College DI regional preview

BOULDER, Colo. – Sixteen teams playing in four regional playoffs will try to earn victories both Saturday and Sunday in order to be one of four teams to advance to the 2014 Women’s Division I College National Championship.

The remaining teams, representing seven college conferences, are a blend of perennial powers and up-and-coming programs.

Here is a closer look at the teams vying for a trip to USA Rugby’s College National Championship Series in Stanford, Calif.

Mid West Regional – Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio

Harvard vs. North Carolina
Harvard enters Regionals with a 7-4 mark. The Crimson avenged its sole conference loss when it defeated Dartmouth, 29-0, in the Ivy League Championship Game. Harvard has challenged itself this spring outside of its conference schedule, going 1-2 against fellow regional finalists West Chester, American International, and Penn State.

North Carolina enters the field as an at-large team. The Tar Heels went undefeated on the season at 6-0 going into its Mason-Dixon Conference Championship match against West Chester. North Carolina would drop the match, 32-17, but its body of work has placed the Tar Heels in the Northeast Regional.

American International vs. Indiana
AIC has had a solid fall season, posting a 6-3 record. The three losses came twice at the hands of Norwich, and once to Army. More recently, the Yellow Jackets won the Four Leaf 15s Tournament and dominated Northeastern, 62-0, as a tune-up for playoffs. Capped Eagle Jess Davis is a powerful prop, while Muneera Patton and Cassidy Meyers captain the side.

Indiana had a very productive regular season, finishing second in the Big Ten. The team’s 15-2 record is even more impressive considering the two losses came against reigning National Champion Penn State. The Hoosiers performed well in sevens, too, taking the Plate home from the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship. Caroline Walter is the team’s field general and leader. Head Coach Vaughn Mitchell also expects big performances from Tiffany Nguyen, Alli Hale, Karen Strunk, and Bridget Tasker.

Northeast Regional – Penn State University
State College, Pa.

Penn State vs. James Madison
Eight-time National Champion Penn State will enter regionals as the favorite to win the whole thing. The Nittany Lions carried an 8-0 record from the fall into its Ireland Tour, which saw Penn State win four of its six matches. Recently, the reigning National Champion has notched big wins over James Madison and Harvard. The team will be without head coach Pete Steinberg and AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American Meya Bizer, who are both with the Women’s Eagles in Canada for the Can-Am Series, while capped Eagle Hope Rogers’ availability is in question. Good thing for Penn State, the team has incredible depth and plenty of firepower including flanker Elizabeth Cairns and scrumhalf Brie Barto.

James Madison has a difficult Round of 16 draw against Penn State, but may have the talent to keep up with the defending National Champion. In the fall, James Madison placed second at the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, and that was without star player Stephanie Goetz. Goetz is an extremely dangerous attacker, but she is not alone. Emily Fullbrook and Chelsea Wilkins will need to have a big weekend in State College, Pa., in order for James Madison to advance to Stanford.

Army vs. East Carolina
Representing the Northeast Conference, Army comes into regionals with a sound, 32-17, defeat of Princeton under its belt. West Point also gave 2013 National Finalist Norwich a tough match in a losing, 29-17, effort. Flyhalf April Emerson was an AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American in 2013, and will initiate Army’s offense once again in the 2014 playoffs.

East Carolina had originally missed the cut for regionals as an at-large team by a narrow margin. After Ohio State was forced to pull itself out of the competition due to a slew of injuries, the Pirates were eager to take the vacant spot. East Carolina compiled a 6-3 record, including a 2-2 mark in Mason-Dixon Conference matches. Key victories for the Pirates include a 48-15 win over Virginia, and a 44-0 blanking of NC State.

Southeast Regional – Life University
Marietta, Ga.

West Chester vs. Georgia Tech
Winner of the Mason-Dixon Conference, West Chester beat North Carolina in the conference championship match, 32-24, and finished the regular season with a 10-3 record. Head Coach Tony DeRemer has led the Golden Rams for over a decade, and the team gained some quality experience on the pitch from a recent tour of Ireland.

Georgia Tech started off its fall campaign at a blistering rate. The Yellow Jackets went 3-0 in 15s, while compiling a 4-0 record in sevens heading into the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship. Tech finished a disappointing 11th at the sevens National Championship, but played extremely well in its South Independent season, finishing second in the conference behind Central Florida. Chi Chi Chukwueke is an All-American speedster, who is a threat to score from anywhere on the pitch.

Central Florida vs. New Mexico
Central Florida may have surprised a few people when it beat Georgia Tech, 56-24, in the South Independent Conference Finals. The Knights graduated 14 seniors last spring and are a relatively young group. Still, Central Florida won its competitive conference, and Kristen Thomas has been a try-scoring machine this season.

New Mexico was a perfect 4-0 against Pacific-Mountain rivals, including an impressive, 29-17, win over Brigham Young. The Lobos are hoping to improve on its Regional performance from last season. New Mexico went 0-2, but the experiences from 2013 should make the team a strong candidate to come out of the Southeast bracket.

West Regional – Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Stanford vs. Texas A∓M
The Cardinal head into regionals with a 7-2 overall record and a perfect 5-0 mark in the Pacific-Mountain Conference. Stanford has produced several impressive scores, including a 103-0 win over Washington and a 55-0 shutout of Chico State. Head Coach Matt Sherman’s team is very deep and receives contributions across the board, but AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American Aly Gleason’s skill and power stands out.

The Aggies hope they can take a step forward in 2014 by reaching the National Semifinals after advancing to the round of eight in 2013. Texas A&M is representing the Southwest Conference after University of Texas declined its spot in the playoffs after a heavy dose of injuries struck the team. Prop Marki Hoyne was an All-American for A&M in 2013, and will be leaned on heavily.

Women’s Cougar Rugby vs. Cal
Brigham Young has had another fine season. After losing an early match against fellow regional qualifier New Mexico, the Cougars have been on a roll. Most notably, Women’s Cougar Rugby shut out Colorado, 96-0, and UCLA, 81-0. The team’s Pacific-Mountain play-in match was a slightly tighter contest, but the Cougars still handled UC Santa Barbara, 53-10, to qualify for playoffs. Senior scrumhalf Nicole McCollough captains the side talented side.

Cal finished its Pacific Mountain Conference with a 3-3 record. In the fall, the Bears won both the Oregon State and Stanford invitationals, and followed those tournaments with a fourth-place finish at the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship. Brandon Sparks has recently taken over for longtime head coach Ellen Owens, who is currently director of rugby. Captains Jess Lewis and Gen Ireland are key players for the Bears, while Stacey Wong has also made a major impact this season.

Regional Playoffs will be completed April 27, and the four teams remaining will move on to the College National Championship weekend of May 9-10 at Stanford University.

An overview of the Women’s College DI Playoff bracket can be viewed here.