Mid-Atlantic Recap: Mid-Atlantic Championships – Titles Won, Champions Advance

Teams punched their tickets to the Eastern Club Championships over the weekend.

Men's Division I: Life Outruns Rocky Gorge for Division I East Crown

With a spot in the men’s Division I National Semifinals at stake, the two top teams in the East clashed as the American Rugby Premiership champion, Life University, met the Mid-Atlantic victor, Rocky Gorge, on a neutral field in Raleigh, N.C. Dealing with the heat and humidity, Life outlasted and outran Rocky Gorge for a 69-26 victory and a date with the Midwest’s Chicago Lions in two weeks.

On its first possession, Gorge’s Luc Desroches scored following a pair of penalties, but the lead was short lived as Life’s Sam Cowley tied it up. Life added two more tries in quick succession from Maciu Koroi and Gio Falco before Sean Hartig scored for Gorge to trail 21-14. The Running Eagles stepped up the defensive pressure leading to scores from Austin White and John Carr and entered halftime up, 33-14.

Life picked up where it left off to start the second half with mauled try from Carr. Not to go down without a fight, Gorge found its composure scoring twice in less than five minutes. Desroches scored his second try off a quick tap from his scrumhalf and then Gorge took the ensuing restart to the house ending with a Nick Kuhl try. With the momentum, Kuhl’s conversion cut the lead to 14 points at 40-26.

As the game entered the final quarter, the heat and fitness took its toll on Rocky Gorge. Life maintained its pace and efficiency scoring five times in the last 20 minutes. Falco completed his hat trick and White and Koroi added to their try total.

The clear difference at the end of the game was fitness and being able to handle the heat. “We are used to training in the heat in Atlanta but you cant 100% prepare for it,” Life coach Blake Bradford said. “The plan was to play more attack than defense and when we held onto the ball for long periods, we were able to fatigue them a bit. We knew Rocky Gorge was a big physical team with a lot of strong ball carriers so the intent was for us to move the ball and use the space. We identified areas where we could try some space and we were able to do that in the game.”

Rocky Gorge coach Nick DiMichele is proud of his team, but recognized areas for improvement. “We allowed some easy tries in the beginning. We started to generate some attack, but inevitably they were a lot more fit than we were and ran away with it in the end. If you’re going to beat Life, you’ll have to be able to run.”

“We ended up digging deep, we brought the intensity when we needed to, and we worked very well off of turnover balls,” Life captain James Ferrante stated.

With the Chicago Lions on the horizon in Spartanburg, S.C. for the National Semifinal, Bradford said, “the Midwest is a very tough league and we expect another physical challenge. There is a lot of work to do. We have to clean up some defensive errors. We know it’s going to be a physical game so we have to be better in the contact area.”

Women's Division I: Northern Virginia Wins Division I East, Raleigh Advances as #2

Down in Raleigh, N.C., the Eastern USA Women’s Division I culminated in the top four clubs battling it out to advance to the National Quarterfinals. After the dust settled on Saturday, Northern Virginia (NOVA) took on the Raleigh Venom for the Eastern championship on Sunday. In the North Carolinian heat, NOVA withstood Raleigh’s best for the 24-7 victory. Both teams will advance to Nationals in Spartanburg, S.C. with NOVA taking the #1 seed and Raleigh as #2.

After a grueling slate of Saturday matches which saw Raleigh beat Philadelphia in a 24-19 overtime thriller on a last second try from Lisa Jackson and NOVA defeat Boston 30-5, the Venom and NOVA took the pitch on Sunday in the final. There is plenty of history between the two clubs, most recently, Raleigh edging out NOVA in October, 25-20.

At the start of the final, NOVA took advantage of a weary Raleigh squad that played 100 minutes of rugby in the heat a day before. Elizabeth Wilson and Stephanie Barros crossed the whitewash for the 14-0 NOVA lead in the first 15 minutes of the test. Raleigh answered with a Lisa Jackson try in the 24th minute but Brianna Kim capped a perfect first half with a penalty to take the 17-7 advantage at the break.

Defense was key in the second half. NOVA was able to break through in the 48th minute with Wilson’s second try but that was the only scoring in the period. NOVA’s consistent defense held Raleigh in check and when the final whistle blew, it claimed the Eastern title with a 24-7 win. 

“The matches between NOVA and Raleigh are always close and hard fought and that was what we expected today,” NOVA coach Brian Walker said. “We also knew they played a long, physical match yesterday against a very strong Philly team in hot humid conditions.”

“Knowing that they went to overtime yesterday, we tried to push the pace early. I think our combination of depth and defense was critical today. We were able to cycle in fresh legs in both our matches this weekend and it made a difference in keeping the work rate high.”

“It was a good match with both teams dominating play for stretches,” Raleigh coach Mike Streicker stated. “However, the 100 minutes of rugby in the heat made it tough for Raleigh to get up to speed today. We still played well defensively, but offensively struggled to get the ball moving.”

“NOVA played extremely well and was able to take the corner on us a few times. They also did a great job of clearance kicks when we were able to penetrate deep into their territory.”

As the #1 seed out of the East, NOVA is excited about Nationals. “We’re very happy to book the win today but we’ve won MACs before. We know the next round will be even more difficult. To succeed, we will need to be smart, disciplined, and continue to be sound defensively.”

Lastly, in the consolation final, Boston rallied from behind to beat Philadelphia in a hotly contested brawl, 39-33. Boston trailed 33-31 late until a Stacey Markovic penalty gave it the lead and then on a counterattack, Deanna Nash weaved and powered through the defense for the final try.
 

Men’s Division II – Doylestown vs Raleigh:

After going undefeated throughout the season, the Doylestown Dragons were looking to earn their second straight men’s Division II Mid-Atlantic title at Founders Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. Standing in their way were the Raleigh Vipers, who came into Saturday’s contest on a nine-game winning streak. For the next 80 minutes of rugby, Doylestown showed why they are the defending champions and vanquished the Vipers by a score of 47-14.

The Dragon forwards softened up the Raleigh defense allowing the center duo of Steve Kornock and Bruce Dolan to inflict damage on the scoreboard. The #12 and #13 racked up a total of six tries, including four from the man of the match Dolan.

“Our pack stepped up and played really tough against a tough Viper pack,” Doylestown coach Mike McCandless said. “We needed to set a precedent there. They played some great defense and we played a lot of the game in their half of the field setting the tone of the game. We were able to possess the ball through multiple phases and that helped to create a little bit of chaos. We were making the gain line and we opened up some gaps for our backline to run.”

In their return to Nationals, the Dragons have learned that they need a deep bench to succeed. “Once you get that far along in the playoffs, we are going to be counting on our bench to carry us through. You really need 28 guys and that will be our focus that every player is ready to go at any time.”

Women’s Division II:

Four teams entered the women’s Division II Mid-Atlantic championship weekend with one goal in common: advancing to Nationals in two weeks. Through the semifinals on Saturday to the mud in the finals on Sunday, Harrisburg notched its second straight MAC championship with a 36-17 victory over Phoenixville White Horse.

Harrisburg made it to the final by dispatching the Norfolk Storm, 53-20. Harrisburg burst out to a 34-0 lead before Norfolk could respond 20 minutes into the game. Nicole Snyder and Michelle Kirk shined in the semifinal with three tries apiece.

Meeting Harrisburg in the final was Phoenixville White Horse, who survived an intense 30-24 bout against Severn River. White Horse led 22-7 at the half, but Severn was very scrappy and refused to go away. Three Severn tries later, River trailed by three points with less than five minutes left. Severn had their chance at the end but White Horse turned the ball over and added the final nail in the coffin with a penalty in front of the posts at the horn.

The final was a rematch of the last regular season match where Phoenixville defeated Harrisburg 44-34. After surrendering the game’s first try, Harrisburg took its revenge on White Horse scoring 31 straight points for a commanding lead. After Harrisburg emptied its bench in the second half, White Horse found some space with its backs but it was too late to recover.

“With the wet and muddy conditions, our gameplan was to keep our gaps tight, catch the ball, and just go forward hard,” Harrisburg coach Scott Stratton said. “Our forwards worked super hard and worked through the mud, muck, and scrummed hard to open up the lanes for backs.”

With Nationals in two weeks in Spartanburg, S.C., Harrisburg’s biggest challenge is everyone being available to travel. “We’ll see who we have available and set a game plan from there,” Stratton concluded. “If we play our cohesive rugby as 15 people working on the same plan, I think we are tougher this year than we were last year.”

 

Men’s Division III: Northeast Philadelphia Irish vs Rocky Gorge

Thirty-two teams began this season in search of the men’s Division III championship and it came down to two squads on Sunday. Battling each other in the mud, the Northeast Philadelphia Irish dominated Rocky Gorge to a 41-7 drubbing. The NE Irish earned its first DIII title by being the bigger, more physical outfit punishing Gorge with their forwards then using the kicking game to pin Gorge deep. The Irish swarmed Gorge’s back three and Gorge was unable to use its speed on the counterattack.

“It was a really sloppy pitch so we knew we had to come up and play a forwards game,” Irish captain Vinny Voce stated. “We made most of our one-on-one tackles and we got to the rucks fast to cause turnovers and seal our balls on offense.

We got a pretty good size forward pack and it is very deep. In these conditions, we ran our forward heavy and brought in the subs.”

Coach Tim Morris echoed his captain saying, “Defense was the game. The conditions played well for us making it a forwards game and we just out muscled them.”

Even though the NE Irish will be a rookie at Nationals, they will be ready. “First time going to Nationals is just staying true to who we are, not trying to be something different and sticking to our game,” Morris said. “To advance in these games, we are going to need to adapt. The teams we have played leading up to us have matched well to our game. These teams from other regions might have a different approach and we just need to be able to react, adapt, and execute.”

 

Women’s Division III:

The prize at the end of the tunnel for the women of Division III was the Mid-Atlantic championship trophy. Four talented teams started on Saturday and South Jersey and the Maryland Stingers met in the final on Sunday for the crown. Winning its first championship in over 25 years, South Jersey was too much for the Stingers and ran away with the match winning 48-5.

South Jersey has dominated all season long and this past weekend was no different. In the semifinal against Rappahannock, outside center Jenelle Fuller took center stage racking up five tries on the way to 51-20 victory.

As for its championship opponent, the Maryland Stingers made it to the finals by defeating Philadelphia, 20-15. It was a significant feat by the Stingers because they only brought 15 players to Pittsburgh and after an injury, held on for the victory despite a late surge from Philly.

Playing with 14 players in the final, the Stingers couldn’t keep pace with South Jersey. Gabrielle Wood, Roanne Drumgoogle, Jenelle Fuller, Sheila Ahmady, and Jamie Fortuna combined to score 48 points while the defense limited the Stingers to five points. Coach Chris Kevenaar gave game balls to locks Sydney Dunbar and Kim Sanabia for stabilizing the scrum and excellent play all weekend.

“We constantly put pressure on their forwards because they are a forward-heavy team and then tried to get the ball out wide,” South Jersey coach Chris Kevenaar said. “With the muddy conditions, it was all about control. Let’s regain control as much as possible and then have the opportunity to get it to the backline and score.”

 

Men’s Division IV: Washington Renegades vs Phoenixville White Horse

The men’s Division IV championship closed out the weekend as the Washington Renegades and Phoenixville White Horse butted heads. The sloppy conditions caused a high penalty count and multiple yellow cards, but Renegades remained composed for the 41-7 win.

The first half was hotly contested with the Renegades holding the 10-7 lead at the break. Washington broke out in the second scoring 31 unanswered points and blanking their opponent.

“We were able to trust in our system,” Renegades coach Michael Cohen said. “ It allowed us to rely on our forwards for ball control and our backs to exploit the gaps when they opened up. We kept our spirits high and kept playing hard, even when down multiple players.”

Cohen attributed the victory to standout efforts from Joel Duberstein, Jackson Hammond, Juwamer Hawrami, Anthony Amato, and Connor Dunn. “This win proves we take the ‘Next Man Up’ ethos seriously. We had many players out of position and filling unfamiliar spots, but they stepped up, delivering when called upon.”