Division I Fall Championship Quarterfinals set for Colorado Springs, Pittsburgh
BOULDER, Colo. - The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and Founders Field in Pittsburgh host this weekend's regional Quarterfinals and Semifinals of the 2015 USA Rugby Women's Division I College Fall Championships.
The West Regional sees Air Force's own Zoomies tackle the Gophers of Minnesota in one Quarterfinal, while Northern Illinois takes the place of Iowa State against Texas. Out east, Princeton's run to the Fall Championship must go through the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, and Kent State will not have to travel very far for its matchup against Connecticut.
Quarterfinal matches at each location will be played Saturday, Nov. 21, with winners advancing to the Semifinals Sunday, Nov. 22. The teams with 2-0 records at the end of the weekend will play for the Fall Championship at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., Dec. 6.
West Regional - Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs
The Mountain West Conference gives Air Force a healthy challenge every season with the likes of Brigham Young University and University of New Mexico, but, for the 2015-16 season, the Cougars and Lobos are playing towards a Division I Elite championship rather than Division I. The Zoomies took the top seed from conference play with wins over Colorado State and DII's Colorado College.
The Zoomies, like their male counterparts, will be disappointed to have lost to fellow armed service member Navy, but came out of losses to BYU and New Mexico battle-hardened for the knockout-style playoffs.
The Gophers, on the other hand, went undefeated through their Midwest Conference season to secure their second-ever appearance at a regional event. Though the opponents were not necessarily blown out of the water by Minnesota, Rebecca Radtke's team won all six games by multiple tries.
"We are happy about the undefeated league season considering it is the first time in our DI history," the head coach said. "The mindset [going into this weekend], however, is that our 6-0 means nothing now; it simply just got us here."
Air Force's 2014 Fall Championship campaign came to an end at the regional round, though it did not have home-field advantage on its side at University of Northern Iowa. The Gophers go into the matchup as the higher seed, and will not be worrying about outside factors in Saturday's match.
"We focus on what we can control, and that is our play," Radtke said. "We have not prepared any different for this game because it is in Colorado Springs. We have respect for the Zoomies and their speed in space."
Though Iowa State defeated Northern Illinois in the play-in match last weekend, the Huskies were asked to travel to Colorado Springs due to the Cyclones' inability to field a full side for the quarterfinals. The Huskies are plenty qualified to reach the regional round with an undefeated 2015 record pre-Iowa State, and are better off having tasted defeat for the first time.
Texas also enters its Quarterfinal with an undefeated record, though its only opponents were Texas A&M and Texas Tech. The Longhorns will not discount their chances of reaching Sunday's Semifinal, and potentially a Fall Championship Final, with a potentially-travel-weary Northern Illinois side on day one and the winner of a sure-to-be-bruising encounter between Air Force and Minnesota on day two.
East Regional - Founders Field, Pittsburgh
Kent State never stood a chance at the Fall Championships Round of 16 in 2014, going up against reigning DI Champion - and eventual 2015 National Champion - Pennsylvania State at Notre Dame College. The disappointment could be felt around the campus, as the Golden Flashes had put together a lossless season only to face a team that had not lost a competitive 15s match against domestic competition since 2011.
The Golden Flashes responded to the early exit in 2014 by breezing through their Mid-America Conference schedule, allowing 15 points in matches against Bowling Green and Central Michigan. Despite the season-opening loss to Notre Dame College, Kent State also stayed in the win column against Pittsburgh and Maryland to book a play-in date with Michigan, a 24-14 victory at home.
The only opponent to truly take Connecticut to the 80th minute this season has been Boston University in a 17-12 match, and the Huskies took first in the Northeast Conference to avoid the play-in round. It is a nice change of pace for Connecticut, which did not even reach the Round of 16 in 2014.
The Ivy Conference is no slouch in the DI field, and Princeton earned its place in this weekend's regionals with a 3-0 record against sides competing towards a Fall and National Championship. Its play-in match against Boston College - second in the Northeast behind Connecticut - was less than ideal as a proper warmup, being that the Tigers won by more than 70 points.
Princeton's Quarterfinal opponent, Notre Dame, received a bye last weekend due to Big Ten Universities Conference members Penn State and Indiana competing towards a DI Elite trophy in the spring. The Fighting Irish were still in attendance at the conference's championship weekend Nov. 7-8, however, though they finished third behind both DI Elite programs.
Apart from a regular season match against the Nittany Lions and the Big Ten Championship weekend loss to Indiana, Notre Dame played well in the fall. Against Purdue and Ohio State the Fighting Irish scored at least 40 points, and a shutout of Michigan could be seen as a highlight at the end of the season. Since a conference trophy is not on the team's mantle, Princeton should expect a fired-up Notre Dame in Pittsburgh.
The four teams to earn a sweep during the Nov. 21-22 Regional Quarterfinals and Semifinals advance to the Dec. 6 Women's Division I Fall Championship match against the Spring Champion at Furman University. The Men's Division II National Championship, as well as the Women's Division II Fall Championship, will also be contested during the weekend, with every match broadcast live on USA Rugby TV.