Lindenwood and Life Advance To The Women’s D1 Elite National Championship

After two exciting semifinals, Lindenwood and Life will meet on April 7 in Stanford to determine who is the best women's collegiate program in the country.

Lindenwood University and Life University, after winning their respective semifinal matches on Sunday, will advance to the 2019 Women's D1 Elite National Championship; setting up a rematch of last year's game. Lindenwood were the first to advance, after taking down Central Washington 70-5 and Life came got through to the tune of a 34-31 win over Penn State. The National Championship will be played at 3pm ET on April 7 at Stanford University with a live stream available through usarugbytv.com. 

With both teams meeting for the second time, in as many years, the squads are excited for round number two. After the game, Life’s captain, Karissa Lacy noted, “We’re excited for the rematch. We’ve been planning all year for it. We know they’re a really great team. They’ve dominated in every aspect of the women’s game and we’re looking forward to the challenge.” While, Lindenwood's head coach, Billy Nicholas noted, "We are excited about the big win and advancing but we know we have a great opponent ahead and we're looking forward to the national final."

Semifinal One: Lindenwood University vs. Central Washington University:

In the first semifinal, between Lindenwood and Central Washington, the opening minute gave a glimpse as to what was in store for the next 79 minutes. From the first phase of the game, the ball was swung wide and down the left flank, as Lindenwood’s Sativa Tarau-Peehikuru, went over to score the first points of the game. Only a few minutes later, through sustained phase play and slick handling, Morgan Freeman crashed over; with a successful conversion provided by USA Eagle, McKenzie Hawkins. After the kick, the scoreboard read 12-0 to Lindenwood, three minutes into the fixture.

Things settled down a little bit, with Lindenwood continuing to press the Wildcat defense. Central Washington held strong and were able to create turnovers and sustain some phase play. However, ill-discipline and unforced errors saw the ball again in the hands of Lindenwood, who through the brilliant running of Caring De Freitas and Tarau-Peehikuru added another two tries onto the scoreboard.

Central Washington weren’t going away anytime soon and struck back shortly after, with a well worked try of their own. The next 10 minutes saw what many had expected form this game, a physical encounter with both teams uncompromising in their plans. However, the final ten minutes of the first half saw  another 15 points added to Lindenwood’s lead. Going into the break the Lions were up, 41-5.

The second half started at a blistering pace, with both sides looking to swing the ball wide and both laying ferocious hits on one another. As had been the case in the first half, Lindenwood was out working Central Washington at the rucks. They were clearing out with greater effectiveness and their ability to counter ruck and disrupt the Wildcats’ attack was evident. Their ability to turn the ball over helped get the ball in De Freitas’ hands and as a result kept Central Washington on their heels. The Fullback’s incsisive running, helped set up their first try of the second stanza.

A yellow card in the 52nd minute to Central Washington’s Hannah Lewandowski, for repeated infringements, saw  the Wildcats on the backfoot. Lindenwood did not waste their opportunity. with a one player advantage, and in the space of ten minutes added another 17 points to their tally. When the Wildcats returned to 15 on the pitch, they found themselves down 63-5.

As the game wore on Lindenwood seemed to thrive off the physicality; while Central Washington, after having defended for the majority of the game, were starting to fall off. Another try in the 72nd minute to Lindenwood saw the score rise to 70-5; where it would stay for the remainder of the game. Central Washington continued to probe and look for opportunities until the final whistle, but ultimately they were unable to overcome, a team determined to defend their national title.

Nicholas after the game was full of praise for his side, "We connected really well as a team today and played off each other nicely. We executed the game plan we had going into the match and made the necessary adjustments collectively throughout the the game and ended up with the result we wanted."  

Semifinal 2: Life University vs. Penn State University:

It was a rematch of last year’s semifinal, as Penn State came out looking to reverse the previous season’s result against Life University. It started off as a close affair, with the first ten minutes seeing both teams swapping attacking opportunities. Desperate defense kept both teams off the score board, but the tone for an exciting match had been set.

It was in the 10th minute, the deadlock was broken, when Life’s, Summer Harris-Jones, crashed over the line after an excellent move from the base of an attacking scrum. Penn State looked to answer back immediately, but errors in attack stalled their progress. A scrum to Life just inside Penn State’s 40m line saw the ball move out wide and after several phases it was spun out to winger Susan Adegoke who scored Life’s second try in five minutes. After the ensuing kickoff, USA Eagle, Megan Rom, broke off a large run and through some keen offloading- Adegoke found herself crossing once more. The third try in seven minutes brought Life, out to a 17-0 lead.

Things looked to be getting worse for Penn State, when they lost a player to the sin bin moments later. However, excellent defense saw the game remain at 17-0. Just prior to the half ending, Penn State found their attacking flair once more. They challenged Life’s defense phase after phase, eventually earning a penalty. At the half, Life was ahead 17-3. Despite the scoreline, the game was in the balance.

The second half wasted no time in producing fireworks. Off the kickoff a 60 meter run from Gianna Solomon put Penn State on Life’s line. An insightful chip from, USA Eagle, Kayla Canett, saw Natalie Bjorklund dot it down. Life’s lead now narrowed to only seven. However, as was the case in the first half, Adegoke proved to be the difference maker. Her elusive running and speed off the mark, saw her set up Harris-Jones for a try only a few minutes later. Shortly after,  in broken play, Adegoke broke free again this time finishing the try off without any assistance. Life, at 29-10, was truly in the driver’s seat once more.  

Life looked primed to cross again, and push their lead out to four tries. However,  an uncharacteristic mistake saw Kayla Canett pounce and run the ball 95 meters, before off-loading it to Bjorklund once more to complete a 14-point swing. Moments later, Penn State, again, broke loose and camped out on Life’s line. However, after five minutes, Life’s defense was unwavering and the Nittany Lions walked away empty handed. The defensive stand sparked something within life and again Adegoke broke free for a 75 meter run before Rom was able to finish the move off. With only 10 minutes remaining the scoreboard read 34-17.

Penn State played an immense final 10 minutes, crossing with five minutes left to bring it back within 10. Life’s defense, which had been solid all game, continued to bend, but not break, under the Nitany Lions’ attack. Penn State crossed once more on the last play to bring the game within three, but it was too late and Life held on for a narrow victory, 34-31. 

Lacy mentioned after the match, " I was expecting a tough game and we knew it would come down to the last second, as it did. In our last two games we played them, we won by two points and then by three points, so we knew it was going to be a tough match all the way until the end. We had to play with our biggest hearts all the way to that last second.