Women’s College DII Regional preview

BOULDER, Colo. – The 16 best Division II women’s rugby teams are each two wins away from earning a place in the Collegiate National Championship Series at Stanford University. In order to reach Stanford, teams will need to win two matches over two days during the Regional Playoffs April 26-27.

The 16 teams remaining in the Women’s DII field have used hard work and determination to reach the playoffs, and must continue to persevere this weekend in order to cement a spot in the National Semifinals.

Northeast Regional – Penn State University
State College, Pa.

Appalachian State vs. American University
After reaching the round of eight in 2013, it is no surprise Appalachian State is back in the Regional Finals in 2014. The team started the 2013-14 season strong, winning Boone, N.C.’s Rucktoberfest in September. After a hard-fought loss to Virignia Tech, the Mountaineers began an impressive winning streak that included wins over Georgia, Georgia Southern, UNC Charlotte, and College of Charleston. Appalachian State’s Lyndsie White is one of the more dynamic players in the entire Regional field, having toured with the AIG Women’s Collegiate All-American side last fall. Along with White, Tory Wiener and Chelsea Vinson are also All-Americans for Appalachian State.

American University has built some steam heading into playoffs with convincing wins over George Washington and Catholic University. Alessandra Bender knows how to find the try line for the Eagles, while fellow backline players Grace Austin and Maddie Ecker are also dangerous on attack.

Mary Washington vs. Kent State
Mary Washington earned its spot in the Northeast Regional by claiming the Women’s Capital Collegiate Rugby Conference Championship. After posting an 8-1 record in the fall, Mary Washington continued it excellent play with a 6-1 spring record. The team’s only losses of the season came against Salisbury, which qualified as the Midwest Regional, and Division I’s University of Virginia.

Kent State finds itself matched up against Mary Washington in the round of 16 after winning the Mid-American Conference.

Midwest Regional – Penn State University
State College, Pa.

Davenport vs. Geneseo
Playing its way through a difficult schedule, Davenport finished its 15s season 9-4 while posting eight shutout victories. In the fall, the Panthers qualified for the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship, where the team won three matches to earn a spot in the Plate Finals, a match Davenport lost, 27-5, to Indiana. Freshmen Danielle Ordway, Hunter Moreland, and Hanna Tennant have come up big in several matches this year, but sophomore Brittany O’Dell is the team leader and powerful runner playing the center positions.

Over the last two conference seasons, Geneseo has accumulated a 10-3 record. Its only losses came against Buffalo and Syracuse, both of which play in the DI ranks. The return of outside center Rose Kolb from a broken leg should provide the team a boost, and openside flanker Mia Ferreina and number eight Hanna Wyland are standout players. The tight five is led by prop Jess Cohen and lock Rachael Burgankowski. Leading up to Nationals, the team has been playing its most recent matches using a split side to build depth and tinker with lineups, while posting wins over Syracuse, Fredonia and Buffalo.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania vs. Salisbury
IU of Pennsylvania went 6-0 on its way to the Allegheny Conference Championship. The Crimson Hawks’ undefeated mark includes shutouts of Clarion, West Virginia, and California University of Pennsylvania.

An 8-2 overall record and 6-1 mark in its Capital Collegiate Conference matches earned Salisbury an at-large bid to the playoffs. Wins over American University, St. Mary’s, and William and Mary have punctuated its successful season. The team lost several players to graduation in December, but was able to use the Cherry Blossom Tournament earlier this month to give the entire roster additional time on the pitch. Captain Casey Hartzell is back from knee surgery and leading the backline, while Marlie Lockard is a fast, sure-tackling wing. Hooker Arielle Grieco and flanker Elisa Drummond are valuable forwards, but may have to shift to the backline due to injuries at the halfback positions.

Southeast Regional – Life University
Marietta, Ga.

Florida International vs. Lee University
Florida International has posted an 8-3 record, which includes four shutouts. The Panthers reached the Southeast Regional by winning a highly-competitive Florida Women’s College Conference.

This has been one of Head Coach Michael Freake’s younger teams, but that has not stopped Lee University from reaching the round of 16 for the fifth consecutive season. Several tough battles, including matches against George Washington and Northern Illinois, should have the Flames prepped for playoffs. Number eight and All-American Candace Barley will be one of the best athletes in Marietta, while winger Ashley Linden can score from the edge.

North Georgia vs. South Florida
North Georgia’s undefeated regular season culminated with a Women’s DII South Independent Rugby Conference Championship. A 22-20 win over Emory, as well as a 32-28 victory against Alabama, have been highlight wins for the Saints. Gardenia Wilson continues to be an offensive threat this season, and won the Women’s DII SIRC MVP. Donna McCullough is the team’s best player on defense, and both Ashton Elser and Marie Anceuax should provide steady play this weekend for North Georgia.

First-year head coach Elizabeth Gallant has led South Florida to a 4-1 record and an at-large bid to the Southeast Regional. The Bulls won a crucial match against Florida Atlantic 38-19 to finish second in its conference. The forwards are led by team MVP and prop Diannelys Rojas, and the backline relies on the leadership and ball handling skills of halfbacks Victoria Koster and Robyn Oliveri.

West Regional – Stanford University
Stanford, Calif.

Humboldt State vs. Cal State Northridge
After a 6-1 regular season, Humboldt State had a number of impressive wins, but none as spectacular as its come-from-behind victory against University of Nevada-Reno. Down 7-23 at halftime, Humboldt scored 32 unanswered, second half points to win 39-23 and solidify a first-place finish in the West Coast Conference. Freshman flanker Kiana Hargreaves has been strong all season, but the team’s backline is especially dangerous. All-American flyhalf Meredith Conrad-Forrest has great vision, and captain Jordan Ludtke is a threat when inserting herself into the backline from her fullback position.

Over the fall and spring, Cal State Northridge has put together a 15-3 overall record, including wins over DI teams UC Davis and UC San Diego. Last week, Northridge soundly defeated UC Santa Cruz in a play-in match to finalize the West Regional. Vince Smith, who helped launch the school’s women’s rugby program, stepped down at the beginning of the season, but former assistant and current head coach Christina Alatorre has done a terrific job. The Matadors’ captains, Gillian Chance and Ciarra Waters-Mullen, have done a phenomenal job leading the team all season.

Long Beach State vs. Western Washington
In just the program’s second season, Long Beach State finds itself in the round of 16. The 49ers finished 7-0 in league play, including a 22-13 win over previously-undefeated Cal State Northridge. Outside of league play, Long Beach challenged itself with matches against BYU and Belmont Shore. Scrumhalf Ashley Ramirez and center Melissa Campbell have been instrumental leaders for the team, and winger Emmy Naeole and fullback Crystal Brown are fearless runners. In the forwards, Angela Baker, Maya Carranza and Sam Inocente bring a physical brand of rugby for the 49ers.

A 3-0 regular season put Western Washington in the Cascade Collegiate Conference Championship, where the Vikings would take on Central Washington. Western Washington won its rematch against the Wildcats 36-32, and in doing so earned a place in the West Regional. Equipped with a potent offensive attack, Western Washington has scored no fewer than 35 points in any of its conference matches this season.

Each of the four Regional Playoffs will produce one winning team, which will move on to the National Semifinal May 10 at Stanford University.

A bracket for the 2014 Women’s DII College National Championship can be viewed at www.USARugby.org.