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DI Final Four: Players to Watch

College Women

DI Final Four: Players to Watch

The USA Rugby Women DI College Fall Championship, hosted by ACRA, will contest its final four this weekend, and the victor will earn its spot in the national championship in May. Penn State plays Quinnipiac on one side of the bracket (1 p.m. ET); Norwich takes on Indiana on the other (3 p.m. ET). The games will be live-streamed (link to come), so familiarize yourself with some of the players who are likely to be mentioned over the course of the weekend:

PENN STATE

Fullback Meya Bizer and prop Hope Rogers are arguably the most famous female college players in the game right now, and chances are you’ve already seen them play as members of the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup team. But there are plenty of Nittany Lions on which to keep tabs:

Elizabeth Cairns is a dynamic, hard-nosed and experienced captain. The flanker has played internationally with the All Americans, and she uses that higher-level understanding to command a large, diverse squad. She’s always on the top of teammates’ “most inspirational” lists.

Tess Feury – The freshman fullback/wing has quickly ascended into stardom, and she’s the highlight of the Class of 2018. She’s already trained with the USA 7s team, played on the first-ever Junior Olympic team, and racked up an impressive number of tries for the Nittany Lions. She’s young and tenacious, and a fun one to watch from the backfield.

Beth Rose – The former track and field star is still considered a newcomer to the sport, but she relies on her speed and natural ease in the open field to keep pace while she learns. Rose is a big, strong prop, who connects well with roommate and lock Taylah Pipkin. Expect to see these two supporting each other's run and rucking over each other’s tackles.

NORWICH

The freshman class has impressed once again, and Ilona Maher has led the way. The High School All American is a gifted, natural athlete, who is learning the game at prop. Maher has a knack for muscling over the line when 10 meters out, so keep an eye on the pink scrumcap when the Cadets get in striking distance.

Wings Alanna Giradin and Denisse Zambon have done well to fill the void left by Joya Clark and Rose Bernheim – two of Norwich’s best finishers the previous four years. They’ve more than held their own beside veteran backs like Ally Day and Emily Colesworthy, are solid in defense and the chase, and have good speed down the sideline.

There’s a lot of talent on this team, and they’re led by the Canadian duo of Emily Oor and Vanessa Champagne. Oor might be easy to miss if she wasn’t simply everywhere on the field. She loves to take those quick-tap penalties immediately, so keep your eye on the pitch when you hear the whistle blow. Champagne has some of the best hands out of contact, and routinely sets up her teammates for breakaways and scores. The pair are the ultimate team players.

QUINNIPIAC

If there’s a star on Quinnipiac, then it’s Natalie Kosko – but you probably already know her. The All American missed a few games during the season, and during that absence, a couple of players stepped into the limelight.

Shannon Durkin is chief among them. The senior back row has always been a “locomotive,” according to QU coach Rebecca Carlson, but she showed some flare for the open field and went on a try-scoring spree. She overtook Kosko’s record for tries in scored in one game, dotting down seven against Navy in a 99-point romp.

It says something that Maggie Myles was named backs captain in, this, her sophomore year. She has great energy and verve, and her move from fullback to flyhalf has paid off. More touches on the ball, Myles has proved to be a great engineer for the offense.

Every new class elevates Quinnipiac’s game, and two Wisconsinites – sophomore Lindey Wise and freshman Rebecca Haight – have been making the most of their young careers. Wise is a prop, and Haight is a wing, but both are impressing their coach with their rate of improvement.

* Keep in mind that Quinnipiac players do not wear jersey numbers that reflect their position.

INDIANA

The aforementioned teams were expected to advance to the final four, but Indiana was a question mark in the West region. The Redstorm’s challenge was always going to be Northern Iowa, and the 7-0 quarterfinal win proved suspicions correct.

In those wintry conditions, a core of forwards held the team together during a tough two-game weekend. Prop Karen Strunk is not only strong, but she likes to score. So does newcomer prop Brittany Reedy, whom Indiana coach Vaughn Mitchell is particularly excited to see develop. In the backs, the always dangerous Bridget Tasker is the best finisher on the wing.

Keep your eye in tight, and watch for lock Alaina Polaski and flanker Victoria Duffin getting the tough work done. They’re both known for their excellent work rate, and will be easy to point out around the field.

DI & DII SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)
Saturday, Dec. 6
9 a.m. DII semifinal: Notre Dame vs Kutztown
11 a.m. DII semifinal: Winona vs. Bowdoin
1 p.m. DI semifinal: Penn State vs. Quinnipiac
3 p.m. DI semifinal: Norwich vs. Indiana

Sunday, Dec. 7
10 a.m. DI & DII consolation matches
12 p.m. DII Fall Championship
2 p.m. DI Fall Championship