Stanford, Penn State to meet in Women’s Division I College National Championship Final

STANFORD, Calif. – American International College put a scare into Stanford University with a third-minute try in the Women’s Division I College Semifinal Friday, but the Cardinal were buoyed by the home crowd at Steuber Rugby Stadium to advance to Saturday’s Final with a 29-15 win. Stanford will meet Penn State University in the Final following the Nittany Lions’ 58-0 shutout of West Chester University.

Stanford fell into penalty trouble before it could get an attack going, giving the Yellow Jackets a chance to strike first. AIC won its own lineout near the Cardinal 22 and pushed the maul all the way to the try line, where Cassidy Meyers dotted down for a 5-0 lead after just four minutes.

AIC did not seem tired from its trip from Pennsylvania and brought a physical game to the Cardinal, with Megan Pinson and capped Eagle Jessica Davis using their strength on both sides of the ball. Stanford eventually matched the Yellow Jackets’ physicality and used it to gain possession on multiple occasions.

It took nearly one quarter of the match, but the Cardinal found their footing and put together a few attacks before prop Maxine Fonua scored Stanford’s first try in the 24th minute to level the match at 5-5.

Stanford’s Madeline Wilson kept the attack going after the restart with a lengthy run down the touch line from her team’s 10 before cutting inside at the Yellow Jackets’ 22. In the 27th minute, Fonua broke the gain line 15 meters from the try line to set up Alyson Gleason with a try between the sticks. She kicked her own conversion to give Stanford its first lead of the match, 12-5.

The Yellow Jackets came close to closing the gap in the dying seconds of the first half with a few fends from Pinson, but AIC lost the ball, drawing the whistle from referee Karen Fong-Dongahue.

Coached by Women’s Eagle Mel Denham, AIC’s game plan in the second half did not need to stray too far from its first-half counterpart. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, who made it to the final four in just their first year in Division I, the Cardinal were too strong over the course of the final 40 minutes.

AIC did not help its own efforts with a yellow card in the 45th minute. Less than a minute later, with the Cardinal already in the Yellow Jackets’ half, a few quick passes moved the ball to Wilson for Stanford’s third try and a 17-5 lead.

Meyers tried to get her team back into the match with a player down from the scrumhalf position, but mishandled passes kept the Yellow Jackets on defense. AIC only spent three minutes at full strength before Savannah Hunter was sent to the bin. Nikki Richardson extended Stanford’s lead to 22-5 a minute later with a fend and a dive into the corner of the try zone.

AIC did manage to get a try with a player off of the field in the 62nd minute. Stanford won a lineout at its own 22 and attempted a box kick, but the kick was blocked, giving the Yellow Jackets possession. Davis pushed through the Cardinal defense for the try and a 22-10 scoreline.

Chelsey Sveinsson scored Stanford’s fifth try in the 68th minute and Gleason converted to give the Cardinal a 29-10 lead, though the Yellow Jackets kept fighting until the final whistle. An apparent try was held up in the 79th minute, but Pinson grabbed the ball from the ensuing scrum to dot down to bring the final score to 29-15 in favor of Stanford.

The Cardinal will “host” Penn State University in Saturday’s Women’s Division I Final after the Nittany Lions shut out West Chester University, 58-0, in the other Semifinal.

Kellie Vetter opened the scoring for Penn State in the fourth minute before Corey Meanix, Elena Cantorna, and Daneille Ciocco each touched down for tries in the first half. Capped Eagle Meya Bizer kicked one conversion in the opening frame for a 22-0 lead at the half, though a yellow card to Katie Mueller in the 39th minute meant Penn State would start the second half with 14 players on the field.

West Chester came close to scoring a couple of times in the second half, but it was mainly a one-way street for the Nittany Lions. Meanix secured a hat trick with 44th- and 79th-minute tries, Gabriella Cantorna scored two tries and kicked one conversion, Gretchen Stockhausen scored a try and converted another, and Elizabeth Rose scored a try in the win.

In the 2013 Women’s Division I College National Championships, Stanford could have met Penn State - the eventual champion - in the Final if it were not for a Semifinal loss to Norwich. The Cardinal will get their chance Saturday, May 10, at 5:00 P.M. PT. Watch the match live on USA Rugby TV and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter with the #NCS2014 hashtag.