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Battle of the Number Ones

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Battle of the Number Ones

There are two big games happening in women’s DI college tomorrow: Penn State vs. Norwich and Quinnipiac vs. Army. There’s no effect on standings but major bragging rights are on the line.

Few have been able to challenge the dominance that is Penn State, who has banked the previous three USA Rugby championships. Norwich didn’t fare so well in the 2013 version of the title run, but since then has won the 15s and 7s ACRA titles in addition to three consecutive USA Rugby 7s titles.

“Across the board it was just wins, wins, wins,” Norwich coach Austin Hall said in the team’s season preview. “And we loved it and had a great time. We grew as a team and laid more of a foundation for the future of our program.”

Much like last year, the Cadets will be asking the underclassmen to be filling some important roles. Keep an eye on Frankie Sands, who is reminiscent of graduate Rose Bernheim, and Ilona Maher, who is new to the sport but already a High School All American.

Familiar players like Emily Oor and Vanessa Champagne, the Canadian duo, will direct traffic as Norwich’s captains, while Collegiate All American Hannah Bell and ACRA 7s MVP Emily Colesworthy will keep the backs moving at top speed. The pack will rely on veterans Riley Blankenship and Val McGuire.

Penn State has the most familiar roster in the country. From Rugby World Cup Eagles (Meya Bizer, Hope Rogers), to Youth Olympic Games player (incoming freshman Tess Feury), to Junior All Americans (Kyla Chipman, Katie Mueller, Gabby Cantorna), the Nittany Lions are always well represented in the upper tiers of competition. Also bolstering the stardom is Eagle captain and PSU alum Kate Daley, who is replacing head coach Pete Steinberg temporarily.

Daley was Steinberg’s assistant coach during the spring, so not much work is needed in terms of familiarization with the big roster. Despite the impressive lineup of players, it’s interesting to note that a few well-knowns aren’t yet represented on the CIPP roster (which isn’t to say they won’t be present tomorrow). Bizer and Rogers are not registered; neither is All American Catie Benson, a fantastic, hard-charging prop, who is difficult to keep out of the try zone.

But if Penn State is known for anything, it’s depth. Those potential vacancies might just mean an earlier, better look at the newcomers whom the Nittany Lions are grooming.

Norwich is live-streaming the Battle of the Number Ones here at 11 a.m. ET.

An hour later, the Quinnipiac vs. Army game will kick off in Hamden, Conn. The match is the Bobcats’ second of the season, coming off a 34-19 victory against recent varsity-elevated Life University in Marietta, Ga.

QU has another big recruiting class on its hands, but it’ll be players like Collegiate All American Natalie Kosko who will be doing the most damage in the open field. Army will have a hard time getting past fullback Maggie Myles, who clocked 17 solo tackles against Life, and is already a captain as a sophomore. Shannon Durkin is also a scoring threat.

Interestingly, Quinnipiac isn’t playing within a league this year – not in ACRA or USA Rugby. The Bobcats have assembled a very difficult fall schedule, including a trip to BYU, and the strength of that schedule will surely impress those evaluating at-large bids for either championship.

Army was recently named a varsity team, so it’ll be interesting to see whether some extra support translates onto the field early on. The Cadets lost some important senior leadership, but Liz McCracken and Mel Thom in the forwards, and finisher extraordinaire Kate Roose are great inspiration, and the roster of 44 have the examples it needs to form a successful team.

Stay tuned for the results.