Penn State wins another Championship, first D1 Elite title

MORAGA, Calif. - Pennsylvania State University's reign atop the collegiate women's game continued at the 2016 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships Saturday in a 15-5 defeat of Brigham Young University in the Women's D1 Elite Final.

Two weeks ago, Penn State was tested by a quick Life University team in the D1 Elite Semifinal, and BYU proved to be a stiff opponent in another sense for Kate Daley's Nittany Lions.

"I think this game was tough in a different way," the head coach said. "The ball was a little wet and they're a more physical team than Life. I think it challenged us and it was still a great game. Competitive games like this are great for the sport, so we're excited we could be part of it."

Watch the Women's D1 Elite Final replay on The Rugby Channel

BYU entered its first National Championship Final as an extramural club on campus in Utah, and did the program justice with a solid showing across the full 80 minutes. While the Nittany Lions spent plenty of time in BYU's half throughout the first 40, the Cougars kept their opponents at bay with tenacious tackling and committed bodies to the breakdown to keep the speed of play slower than Daley's team would have liked.

Penn State began a patented attack with depth at BYU's 22 in the 15th minute, and had success moving the ball before the attack ended near the corner with a knock. The Nittany Lions stayed with what they knew on attack and it paid dividends in the 21st minute when fly half Gabriella Cantorna grubbered a ball through a defender's legs from 10 meters out for Scout Cheeks to ground in-goal.

The try was not converted, and shortly thereafter BYU had its first attacking foray in Penn State's half with go-forward ball from the pack. A maul nearly drove to the try line but the referee saw fit to give Penn State the ball via a penalty.

A five-meter lineout for Penn State in the 34th minute turned into a successful maul and five points from freshman prop Azniv Albandian, the match's Most Valuable Player, for a 10-0 score line at the break.

Cheeks doubled her scoring tally in the match two minutes into the second half, running down the wing from midfield and dotting down twice - once at the five-meter line and again in-goal for a 15-0 advantage.

It was a battle of attrition for the two teams in the second half, with set pieces proving valuable for territory and both teams making the first-up tackles. Substitutes entered the match late on and provided one last burst of energy, and a late attack from BYU ended any hopes for a Penn State shutout. All-American Jordan Gray's run to the try line set up a pass out to prop Rebekah Hebdon, who bundled over her opposite number on the line to get the ball to the ground for a 15-5 final.

The Nittany Lions stand alone as the D1 Elite National Champions after a season in which eight of the top women's programs in the country competed in the new playoff format. Daley's side will regroup once again for the USA Rugby College 7s National Championships in Cary, N.C., and perhaps another run at a 15s championship in a year's time.

"Penn State is really special," the head coach said. "Even if we don't have the best athletes or if we have really young players, there's something special about being a part of this tradition that makes all of the players that step onto the field feel like they have more than just the 14 people on the field with them.

"I'm very proud of what they've done this semester."