2019 Spring Championship Playoffs Preview

Over the next three days the best college teams from their respective divisions will be battling it out for their spot in the 2019 Spring Championships. Three divisions will take the field, Men’s D1AA, Women’s D1 and Women’s D2, to earn their spot to Matthews, North Carolina the weekend of May 3-4, for their shot at being crowned the 2019 Spring Champions. With new teams making appearances as well as some familiar faces in different places, it will be an exciting weekend of college rugby.

Men’s D1AA:
Action picks up immediately in the quarterfinals for the Men’s D1AA competition, with games kicking off on Saturday and semifinals being played on Sunday it will be a weekend filled with intense battles. In the Eastern quarterfinals, Dartmouth, last year’s spring champion, takes on Sam Houston State, and Iowa State goes up against Central Florida. In the west Long Beach state will take on Western Washington. The winner of that game will go up against the winner of the most intriguing matchup of the quarterfinals, Chico State taking on Kansas.

Both Chico State and Kansas enter the game with impressive records. For Chico State they have gone undefeated on the year; while Kansas has only dropped two matches. A lot of the success Chico has enjoyed this year, according to head coach Lucas Bradbury, has come from their ability to embrace their patterns. “Discipline and player buy-in,” Bradbury responded when asked what the catalyst for success had been. “The boys have really taken to being part of a tighter unit and taken on the new game plan and systems.”

A large part of the players willingness and ability to pick the game up has been driven by a quartet of skilled and talented players and leaders. Bradbury singling out his flankers Jake Wiley and Thomas Gust; as well as, Anton Holm and Anthony Riley their flyhalf and fullback respectively. Bradbury noting his backs have been on fire recently and have been the center of all their attacking efforts this year. Holm with his ability to score points with ball in hand or on boot and Riley with his ability to create try scoring opportunities. The flankers are no nonsense and when asked what they’ll provide Bradbury simply mentioned “They’ll get the job done.”

Kansas has a slew of talented players in their squad too. Trenton Tayrien has been the standout for the Jayhawks all season, leading the team in tries and conversions. The fullback is only one part of the incredibly deep squad, however. Much of their talent won’t show up on the stat sheet, rather it will be found up in the pack. The Jayhawks have a large and hard hitting pack that thrive off clogging the middle channels with big bruising runners. Kansas will try and slow Chico’s play down, while Chico will most likely try and tire the Kansas’ forwards out as much as possible.

The great thing about playoffs is, what you’ve done in the past has no bearing on the future. Both sides are acutely aware of this. Kansas knows if they are to advance through to the semifinals they can’t rely on previous performances and Chico knows if they want to remain in the hunt, they will need to be 80 minutes of consistency. “Execution. Our forward pack will execute and our backs will execute,” stated Bradbury when asked what the keys to success in the playoffs will be. “If we can limit unforced errors. We’ll get the job done.”

The games played at Chico State will be available through a live stream on Chico State’s Facebook page.

Women’s D1:

Kicking play off in the quarterfinals, there are a bevy of excting games to follow in the Women’s D1 competition. Will BYU dominate the year after dropping down from D1 Elite, will Chico State be able to go back to back; and will UCF be able to make up for their loss in the National title game last year? However, the most tantalizing storyline coming into the weekend will be Virginia taking on Virginia Tech.

It’s been a successful year for both teams so far this season. They’ve met twice throughout the season and in their two games and on both occasions Virginia Tech came out on top. They won the first encounter 38-17, and were able to hold on in a closer second installment, 21-19.

These two teams have already this season and on the game went in favor of Virginia, 38-17. However, even though Virginia did suffer two losses, they were still one of the best tems in the county, hence their invitation to the playoffs. Each team puts the success they’ve enjoyed this year down to the leadership and quality of players around them. The leadership of the four captains have been pressing hard on the girls,” explained Virginia Tech head coach, Garret Thompson. “The accountability, comradery and pure desire to get to that next level, its been really palpable.” Nancy Kechner, Virginia’s head coach noted “They’re very cohesive and they work well together. We’re still pretty young but they’ve come together.”

While there is no denying rugby is a team sport, it always helps to have a player or two who can turn the game on its head at the drop of a hat. Thompson believes he has two players who really help drive the team forward.  Kirnjot Kaur the teams flyhalf is described as being “Her leadership on and off the field has been unbelievable. On the field her decision making process and her physicality has been great,” Thompson explained. Congetta Owens was the other player  identified by Thompson as being a key role player in the team. “She doesn’t stop. I’ve seen her make four tackles back to back to back to back. She’s relentless,” exclaimed Thompson. Kechner will look to their number 8, Anna Thillairajah, who has been a force throughout the year. Kechner noting “She’s fast as hell and smart as hell.”

Having played each other twice, both teams have a solid understanding of what it will take in order to walk away with the win. Kechner knows Tech has a strong defense and thrive off the physicality. However, Kechner believes in order for Virginia to win, they will have to “put it all together.” Further elaborating by saying “If we can stick to our game plan life should be good.”

Thompson is expecting a physical forward orientated game as well. Noting, “Their forwards are very tough and strong. The first two games were absolutely brutal and I expect it to be a back and forth match.” Similarly to Kechner, Thompson believes they will have to play a complete performance.  If the backs and forwards can gel it will be a hard day’s work to slow them down.

Women’s D2:

The women’s D2 competition appears to be more open than it has been in years, with numerous teams standing a chance, as they head into this weekend, to lift the trophy when it’s all said and done.  Tulane will enter as favorites  and will take on Kansas State, Salisbury and George Washington  both pose a serious threat to Tulane’s chances, but will first need to get by Georgia and  Eckerd, respectively. William and Mary taking on Costal Carolina also will be an exciting game to follow. However, Claremont and Saint Mary’s appears to be the tightest matchup of the opening weekend.

These two teams, between them, have a record of 15-1-1. Claremont’s record sits at 6-0 and Saint Mary’s at 9-1-1. Entering the game, Claremont, last year’s runner-up will likely be the favored of the two teams; however, Saint Mary’s will like their chances to end Claremont’s hopes of a second consecutive finals appearance.

Claremont’s efforts last year to reach the National Championship, was a cumulative effort of four years. With a newer side, this year, head coach Evan Wollen isn’t too worried about the loss of experience. Rather, he’s enthusiastic about how his team has responded, “we’re always a little bit smaller than the teams we play, but we always try to defend aggressively and attack aggressively and that has worked out for us.”

Part of what has made them such a consistent team, has been the team’s cohesiveness, rather than just one or two star players. This year, it against seems to be a similar scenario.  However, Wollen was able to find a few of players that seemed to have raised their play this year. The first he singled out was Dana Alimena, their inside center, who has just returned after injuring her ACL back in August. The other player noted was Alexandra Parker their starting flyhalf. “She has stepped into the role. She was fullback last year and stepped into flyhalf this year. She’s great at controlling the game,” explained Wollen.  He also noted, playing in the back row, Jessie Ribera, a four year starter who always makes a lasting impact on the games.

Saint Mary’s will look to their number 8, Kristina  Tomelloso and outside center Ashley Torrecillas to carry the torch for them. Between the two outstanding players, they have combined for a total of 39 tries this season. Claremont will have their hands full trying to slow these two down in open field.

While it is easy to get caught up looking at the path to the finals, Claremont and Saint Mary’s will be is taking it step by step. The last time these two faced each other was three years ago and the current seniors were freshman at the time. While they may not have any recent knowledge of each other, they will both have a firm respect and know getting through to the next round, is by no means guaranteed.